Arie Egozi/TEL AVIV

The Israeli Government is facing heavy pressure to pull out of an agreement to supply Phalcon airborne early warning (AEW) systems to China.

A visit to Phalcon supplier Israeli Aircraft Industries by the Chinese premier Jiang Zemin during a visit to Israel last week was cancelled in an effort to lower the defence profile of the trip.

Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak is attempting to divert increasing pressure from the USA, which at one point saw members of Congress threaten to cut military aid to Israel. The US Government's concerns were also raised on 11 April when Barak met President Bill Clinton.

The view from Tel Aviv and Washington is that the two sides are likely to reach a compromise, possibly involving Israel agreeing to halve the number of aircraft to be delivered. The first Beriev A-50 - a modified Ilyushin Il-76 - is in Israel being equipped with the Phalcon radar and systems by IAI subsidiary Elta.

Asenior Israeli source says Phalcon does not contain any US hardware or technologies. The deal for up to four aircraft is potentially worth $1 billion, although an existing contract covers the delivery of only one aircraft.

David Levy, Israel's foreign minister, says Israel will consider the USA's protest but will protect its own interests in China. "We will not cancel the deal because another country will supply the systems."

BAE Systems had been negotiating the sale of an Argus radar-equipped aircraft as a rival to Phalcon, but activity on this front is now dormant.

Source: Flight International