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News Analysis: South Korea becoming major Israeli arms client

English.news.cn   2011-09-08 06:01:22 FeedbackPrintRSS

by Adam Gonn

JERUSALEM, Sept. 7 (Xinhua) -- With the Spike NLOS rocket developed by Israel's Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., South Korea hopes that it has found the weapon it needs to protect its military forces deployed along its border with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

In a deal worth 43 million U.S. dollars, South Korea would be able to deploy the system by the end of the year.

The Israeli news site Ynet reported that Seoul intends to use the system in case it need to defend itself again against the DPRK 's coastal artillery.

In November 2010, four South Koreans were killed on Yeonpyeong by DPRK shelling.

Due to the increased tension with Pyongyang, Seoul has decided to increase its defense acquisitions budget, and a large part of the money could go for Israeli weaponry.

"Israel and South Korea have been interested in a defense relationship for quite a long time," Dr. Jonathan Rynhold, of Bar- Ilan University, told Xinhua Wednesday.

South Korea has already purchased radar systems and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Israeli defense contractors. During a visit earlier this year, a South Korean official from the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) expressed interest in the Iron Dome anti-missile system which also is developed by Rafael.

Iron Dome has been successfully deployed in Israel's south to protest cities and communities from missiles and rockets fired by Palestinian groups in Gaza.

COMMON INTERESTS

"The security situation and threats faced by Israel and South Korea are very similar," DAPA's Vice Commissioner in Seoul Kwon Oh- bong said, according to Ynet, adding "we're exposed to the types of incidents and local provocations Israel is familiar with too."

Meanwhile, Rynhold believes that in addition to the similar ballistic threats that Israel and South Korea face, both countries share a common interest vis a vis the DPRK, as the DPRK "is supplying weapons of mass destruction and technology to Israel's enemies."

He was skeptical of recent speculation in Israel that defense exports to South Korea might be able to offset the loss of the Turkish market due to the current political crisis.

While arguing that countries throughout the world including Asia "recognize Israel's particular advantages in the defense field and they seek out Israel in that regard," Rynhold does not think arms sales to South Korea would have an effect on potential sales to other countries in the region.

U.S. OPPOSITION

But one major obstacle for Israeli-South Korean arms sales in the past has been an agreement signed between Israel and the United States which limits what types of weapons and technologies Israel is allowed to sell to other nations.

The agreement was established so that Israel would not sell arms to countries which the U.S. may have a conflict of interest with, or to allow Israeli firms to compete with American ones.

"Theoretically, Israel is allowed to sell weapons to any country that she wants to," said Dr. Alon Levkowitz, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. However "if the weapons have American technology, Israel needs to get an approval from the American administration."

He quoted a recent example when Israel wanted to sell surveillance aircraft containing American technology to South Korea and India. But since the Americans were not "enthusiastic in approving these deals," Israel was not allowed to close the deal -- to the great consternation of both of the Asian countries.

However, in the end, Israel was allowed to sell the planes to India, and South Korea ended up buying the planes from U.S.-based Boeing instead.

Levkowitz said that South Korea buys an estimated 90 percent of their defense purchases from the United States, and the remainder from Israel and a number of European countries.

REASONS FOR SUCCESS

Despite being a small country, Israel ranks among the top defense exporting countries in the world. While domestic sales account for only 10 percent of total sales for Israeli firms, the importance of domestic development and production is considered to be the foundation for its success.

The armament industry also has a very strong relationship with the country's armed forces, and when Israeli army officers retire, they tend to seek employment in the defense industry. This leads to a situation where a lot of combat experience and know-how is directly transferred to the industry.

One of the main benefits of such a closed circle is that new lessons from the battlefield could be quickly incorporated into the development of new defense systems -- thereby shortening the time from notion to production.

Another aspect often raised is that Israel appears to have found the right combination of government support and private initiative so that firms could enjoy the benefits of government assistance and guarantees, while at the same time leaving enough space for private creativity and incentives.

Editor: yan
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