Israel Ports Development and Assets Company and the planning authorities are proceeding with the construction of Haifa Bay Port by a Chinese company, despite the escalating trade war between the US and China and the threat by the US Senate to the continuation of construction of the port.
Construction of the port has lately been threatened from both without and within. The US has been criticizing Israel's agreement with Chinese company SIPG for construction of the port and its operation for 25 years. At the same time, the Haifa District Court has issued an injunction halting the issuing of building permits for the port, following a petition by the Haifa municipality concerning the expansion of the city's airport.
"To consider foreign investments"
The US is exerting pressure through various channels out of concern about the Chinese company's proximity to the existing Haifa Port, which is used by the US Sixth Fleet. The Trump administration has become involved in recent months, and now the US Senate is considering a bill that includes a resolution calling on Israel to consider foreign investments in Haifa Port. The resolution states that the US "has an interest in the future forward presence of United States naval vessels at the Port of Haifa in Israel, but has serious security concerns with respect to the leasing arrangements of the Port of Haifa as of the date of the enactment of this Act and should urge the Government of Israel to consider the security implications of foreign investment in Israel.”
One of the sensitive security points is the fact that the Haifa Port sea department, which also manages naval traffic, will be transferred to the management of Israel Ports Company, which is also responsible for the Haifa Bay Port. Israel Ports will have to carefully guard the information in order to prevent the Chinese company from learning about the anchoring plan at nearby Haifa Port.
A source close to the construction of the port said, "There is no need to operate a port costing billions in order to discover who is anchoring at Haifa Port. It's enough to look out from an apartment on the Carmel mountain range. You can see the port perfectly well from the Hadar neighborhood without binoculars." The source believes that the US pressure is not motivated by any real security need.
The internal pressure comes from the Haifa municipality, which yesterday petitioned the District Court, alleging that the new port was preventing the expansion of the city's airport and turning it into a small international airport. Since the election of Einat Kalisch-Rotem as mayor, the municipality tried to change the construction terms for the port on the District Appeals Committee, and petitioned the court after this appeal was dismissed. The municipality filed another petition today asking for the tender documents and the contract signed with SIPG. This petition alleges, "Disclosure of the information it is asking for is of supreme importance… It is unacceptable for a contract amounting to hundreds of millions of shekels, which has broad effects and consequences for a large number of people over an extensive area to be managed in absolute darkness without a minimum of transparency.
The Haifa municipality is meanwhile disrupting the development plans for the port. The municipality was to have paved access roads to the port, but has not yet begun to do so, and it appears that it will not do so.
SIPG stated that it would be unable to operate the port without access roads, and Israel Ports is now trying to find solutions. Despite the delays, however, the planning authorities and Israel Ports still believe that construction of the port will be completed as planned in 2021, and that speeding up the pace of the work can make up for the delay.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on June 17, 2019
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