US concern is centred on Haifa Port, which will be run by Chinese interests in 2021. In 2018, Beijing has promised US$ 23 billion in loans and aid to Mideast countries and plans to invest another 28 in infrastructure. The Pentagon warns that the region’s countries risk falling into Beijing's orbit.
Tel Aviv (AsiaNews/Agencies) – As the trade war between China and the United States intensifies, the US is warning that Israel and other Middle Eastern countries are increasingly falling into Beijing's orbit.
In light of this possibility, the White House recently warned local governments, especially Israel’s, against signing potential agreements with China, like a deal involving Haifa Port.
The US Defence Department’s top Middle East policy official said that the US military is “highly attentive” to Chinese trade and infrastructure investments in Israel.
The Pentagon has repeatedly raised issue with Israel’s decision to allow the government-owned Shanghai International Port Group to strike a US$ 2 billion deal to operate Haifa Port starting in 2021, a port of call for the US Navy’s Sixth Fleet.
The Shanghai International Port Group was the sole bidder for the 25-year contract on the port in 2015.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for the Middle East Mick Mulroy spoke on the matter last week. “The openness of the US and Israeli economies is a strength to our countries, but malign actors can take advantage if we are not cautious,” he said.
In fact, he explained that “While we are not asking Israel to avoid dealing with China entirely, we have open discussions with all our closest allies and partners on the national security implications of Chinese investment”.
Haifa Port is not the only Chinese investment in Israel. Chinese interests cover Tel Aviv’s light rail system, which transits by Israel’s defense headquarters at Kirya and a port in the south near Israel’s naval base at Ashdod.
Experts have indicated that a possible Chinese presence at Haifa Port could allow the People’s Liberation Army Navy to monitor US ship traffic and maintenance, and pose cybersecurity threats.
With respect to the Haifa deal, the Israeli government included a classified security appendix, which defines the authority of the Israeli security services in regard to the port, and limits sensitive roles at the facility to citizens with top-secret clearances.
The US Navy has already said it plans to reconsider long-standing operations at Haifa once the Chinese handover occurs, and the Senate added a provision in its must-pass annual defence authorisation bill to urge Israel to consider security implications surrounding foreign investment.
The deal, controversial at least for Washington, comes at a time of ever-increasing ties between China and the region’s US allies (in particular Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates).
China pledged US$ 23 billion in loans and aid to Middle East states in 2018, and added US$ 28 billion in infrastructure investments.
China also rang up billion in weapons sales from Middle East customers from 2013 to 2017.