Photo Credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Tuesday morning began with reports that the Chinese Embassy in Israel distributed thermal cups containing eavesdropping devices, as gifts to various Israeli government ministries and ministers, according to a report by Moriah Asraf on Galei Tzahal.

The gift box included chocolates and thermal cups that contained a suspicious electronic-looking component. Gifts from foreign sources and China in particular are routinely examined for spying devices.

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At the time, security officials said, “The issue under investigation.”

Following the incident, security officials immediately collected the cups from all the other government ministries for further inspection. The various ministries, including the Prime Minister’s Office, have been instructed to be more strict in following procedures, and any gift originating from a foreign mission requires security clearance.

Three sources in the ministers’ offices confirmed reports that suspicious devices were found in the cups sent as a gift from the Chinese embassy.

The Chinese sent messages to the various offices to get the devices in:

“Sir,I want to ask my colleague to send you Passover gift.can you send me your office address please?Thank you!”

and

“Hi ______ I am on my vacation in Chine.On 12th April, next Tuesday,My colleague will deliver the Passover gift for you and the Minister at your Ministry entrance.Can you please ask someone to receive? Can you please give me his or her name and mobile phone number? Thank you”

After examining the thermos cups, the Shabak released a statement that the devices were innocent objects that are part of maintaining the vacuum in the thermos, and not listening devices. The object is commonly known as a “getter” which is used to help create and maintain a vacuum.

But the diplomatic damage has already been done.

The Chinese Embassy in Israel released an angry statement in which it explained that “on the occasion of Passover, following diplomatic customary practices, the Chinese Embassy in Israel sent holiday gifts to the Israeli side to express our friendship.”

“However, the Embassy noticed that certain Israeli media spread rumors that a thermal mug in the gifts ‘may’ contain ‘a suspicious device.’ The fact is, the so-called ‘suspicious device is a getter, which could be easily found in the same kind of thermal mugs,” it noted.

“The baseless rumors have a severe impact as they aim to drive a wedge between China and Israel, tarnish China’s image and seriously mislead the public. Media reports say they cited ‘sources’ from [a] relevant Israeli government authority, but the mentioned government authority made clear to the Embassy that it hasn’t made any statement to the press regarding this matter,” it stated sharply.

It is of significance to note that the fears of Chinese espionage are not baseless. In recent years, Chinese intelligence agencies have been found to be collecting information in a variety of ways around the globe.

Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) published a report in February 2022 in which it pointed out that “China sees Israel as a leading technological power, and therefore it is not impossible that alongside its public cooperation with Israel, Beijing is engaged in espionage activity against blue and white companies and institutions – civilian, military, and government alike.”

“Israel is an attractive source of technologies needed in China, as explicitly expressed by the Comprehensive Partnership for Innovation signed between the countries in 2017. Consequently, alongside the overt and agreed-upon activity, it is likely that China’s intelligence agencies are working in Israel to attain its objectives in espionage efforts, as well as in other countries of value to it,” the report notes.

“As in the United States, it cannot be ruled out that government ministries, defense industries, and civilian companies in Israel have been attacked in the service of China’s intelligence objectives. It is also likely that a substantial focus of interest in the eyes of Chinese intelligence is the complex system of relations between Israel and its ally, the United States,” the report adds.

“China is not an enemy of the State of Israel, and the bilateral economic relations have important advantages. However, China is openly striving to become a leading global power, and it is carrying out extensive efforts to attain the technologies it needs in methods with varying legitimacy. China’s methods of operation and intelligence and espionage capabilities also pose a significant challenge to Israel, as an attractive target and a source of advanced technology,” the report concludes.

Content from TPS was used in this report.

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