US presses Israel on China's Haifa Port investment

Haifa's new port Photo: Eyal Izhar
Haifa's new port Photo: Eyal Izhar

US National Security Advisor John Bolton is raising concerns with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about growing Chinese involvement in Israel, "Bloomberg" reports.

"Bloomberg" reports that US National Security Advisor John Bolton, who is in Israel, will raise concerns with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the penetration of Chinese technology in Israel, and direct investment by China in the country, particularly in Haifa Port, as well as investments by Chinese telecom companies. "Bloomberg" quotes an unnamed US official on this matter.

It is four years since Shanghai International Port (Group) Co. (SIPG) was awarded the Israel government tender to build and operate for 25 years the new port being in Haifa. It was the only company which bid in the tender. Construction of the port is expected to be completed in 2021. However, it is only over the past year, against the backdrop of the US-China trade war, that this has become an issue. In fact, it is rapidly becoming an issue as big as the Phalcon surveillance aircraft sale to China, which Israel was forced to cancel in 2000, following US pressure.

The US concern is that the Chinese will be able to spy on US Navy ships which regularly visit the existing neighboring Haifa port to the south, which also, according to foreign reports, serves as the base for the Israeli Navy's submarine fleet.

However, Israel Ports Development & Assets Co. Ltd. chairman Ram Belnikov recently told "Globes" that the franchise agreement with SIPG includes a classified security appendix in which the Chinese are committed to respecting Israel's security. But as far as is known, there has been no serious discussion on this issue by the Defense Ministry and the National Security Council knows nothing about the matter.

In response to the Chinese presence at Haifa Port, there have been reports in the US that the US Navy Sixth Fleet will stop visiting Haifa. However, the Spokesman for the Sixth Fleet told Globes Washington correspondent Ran Dagoni that, "Sixth Fleet ships frequently visit Haifa Port for joint training with the Israeli Navy as well as for routine visits. There is no change to our operational routine with Israel. Our partnership with Israel is strong. But I cannot predict what will be and what won't be in 2021."

At an academic seminar at Haifa University in August, US Admiral Gary Roughead (Retired) who served as the US Navy's 29th Chief of Naval Operations and today a research Fellow at the Hoover Institute warned that the Chinese can use civilian infrastructures for military purposes and that this is a matter that should "concern both Israel and the US." Other academics said that Israel was mad to let the Chinese develop Haifa port and the Israeli Navy could no longer rely on continued close relations with the US Sixth Fleet if the Chinese stay in the picture.

The only senior government figure to talk openly on this matter was Minister of Transport and Intelligence Yisrael Katz at the Globes Business Conference last month. He said, "The horses bolted the stable nine years ago when we signed an MOU for strategic cooperation with China. This was an excellent decision for Israel. We allowed them to compete in tenders for projects. I think we need to develop oversight mechanisms, but we need to differentiate between security and civilian issues. There is a trade war between the US and China and if Israel finds itself in the middle of these giants and their tectonic shifts. In the end they'll come to an agreement and we won't manage to stay afloat."

Meanwhile, the Chinese have won most of the tenders for the Tel Aviv light rail and are eager to build a railway line to Eilat.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on January 6, 2019

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2019

Haifa's new port Photo: Eyal Izhar
Haifa's new port Photo: Eyal Izhar
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