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The Harpoon Block II Deal?Upsetting A Delicate Balance

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The linchpin of the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt ? and the basis for Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula ? was that the Sinai would be demilitarized, and a natural “no-man's land” of sorts would be created between the two countries. However, a proposed U.S. missile deal with Egypt threatens to negate this vital element of the military balance that has obtained for more than two decades.

Amnon Barzilai writes in last Tuesday's Ha'aretz that in early November, the Bush Administration asked Congress to approve the sale of advanced Harpoon Block II missiles to Egypt. According to reports, this missile is the best of its kind in the world. It is capable of precision targeting to within 35 feet of the target;

carries a 450 pound warhead; has a range of 93 miles; and can be launched from a warship or plane.

Perhaps most significantly, it is unusually effective when fired from fast-speed American-made speed patrol boats ? four of which are also to be part of the arms package sale being contemplated. As Barzilai says, with such missiles, and with its ships situated far away from Israel's shores in international waters, Egypt would be capable of targeting any place in Israel with pinpoint accuracy.

Until now, the U.S. has supplied Egypt with so-called weapons platforms ? warplanes, warships and tanks capable of launching missiles ? to replace those previously provided by the former Soviet Union and states of the former Communist bloc. The quality of these platforms is similar to those possessed by Israel, but Israel always maintained a technical edge because the U.S. always supplied Israel with more advanced defensive systems and Israel was able to develop certain required technologies America refused to provide.

But if the deal goes through, everything would change.

Barzilai reports that in their explanations to Congress, Administration officials claimed that Egypt needed the missiles to defend the Suez Canal. Skeptical lawmakers wanted to know from whom? They also wanted to know why a weapon with a range of 150 miles was needed in any event.

We rather think that “coalition politics” has a lot more to do with this proposed deal than a concern for the Suez Canal. Some State Department folks may think that Egypt's support can be bought by this gesture. But we continue to believe that where Israel is concerned, the only thing that keeps all of the Arab states from going on the attack is the prospect of certain and swift devastating defeat.

So, to our mind, the Bush Administration is playing a very, very dangerous game.

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