Two Israeli port facilities being upgraded by China may have security ramifications for Israel and its closest ally, the United States.
Israel relies on three key ports at Haifa, Ashdod and Eilat for almost all imports and exports. At the same time, Haifa is home to Israel’s nuclear submarine force — one of Israel’s primary second-strike capabilities in the event of nuclear war. It will now be monitored by China.
Haaretz reported that the decision to award the contracts to China was made with “zero involvement of the National Security Council, and without the Navy being in the picture at all” as part of the maritime “silk road” infrastructure project.
Beijing has secured a quarter-century lease for Haifa, with the Israeli authorities hoping to make its port industry more competitive. Signed on May 28, 2015, the contract grants Beijing total control of the port, set to be inaugurated in 2021. China will also built a tunnel from Mount Carmel to double the supply of Haifa’s port.
In Ashdod, Israel’s busiest port, a subsidiary of China Harbour Engineering Co. Ltd. won the mid-2014 contract to build an $876 million port.
But the United States-Israel alliance may suffer as a result as American vessels frequent these ports too.
Retired US Admiral Gary Roughead told the Jerusalem Post: “The Chinese port operators will be able to monitor closely US ship movements, be aware of maintenance activity, and could have access to equipment moving to and from repair sites and interact freely with our crews over protracted periods.”
Roughhead warned: “It’s not just someone listening in, but what is the technology being used in commercial systems which can bleed into military systems? How vulnerable are they to interference? It’s not something that just Israel and the Port of Haifa should be concerned about. What is being tested on an Israeli warship and how easily can those signals be picked up? What are the mechanisms in place to prevent that?”
On Monday Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan, the man often dubbed “the second-most powerful in China,” visited Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu.
Qishan is on a three-day visit for an “Innovation Summit”. Chinese companies invested $16 billion in the Israeli economy last year, particularly in high-tech.
Haaretz reported that China is currently Israel’s second-largest trading partner, eclipsed only by the United States. And China is expected to win the planned tender to build the new rail line to Eilat, giving China a stake in all three of Israel’s main sea outlets.
Shaul Horev, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, warned in August that Israel was not taking the security and diplomatic implications of allowing China to control its ports seriously. He quoted American officials who told him that this would mean that the US Sixth Fleet would no longer consider Haifa one of its home ports.
Former Mossad Chief Efraim Halevy noted: “Israel’s strategic allies are in the West, the United States and the European NATO members. China is a strategic ally of the Iranians and has sold them nuclear technology. We are much too eager to do business with them.”
But a veteran Israeli diplomat believes Netanyahu enjoys dealing with the Chinese. “Asian leaders never bother him about the Palestinians. If they bring the issue up at all, it’s just for protocol. They just want to talk business and that’s what he likes.”
In 2021, 90 percent of all Israel’s international trade will be controlled by China. This means that the People’s Republic of China will join the United States as protector of Israel, shaking up regional geopolitics.
Hamas has had a representation in Beijing, but both Hamas and Hezbollah will no longer be able to attack Israeli road, railway and port targets without entering into conflict with China.
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