American concern about the tightening of trade and technology ties between China and Israel is at the center of the talks this week between President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor, John Bolton, and Israeli officials, Haaretz reported Monday. According to Bolton’s senior staff, the talks are both about the general penetration of Chinese technologies into Israel and specifically regarding Huawei and ZTE, which Trump is considering banning in the US, and which Japan, Australia and New Zealand have already blocked because of concerns over its links to the Chinese government.
Kan, Israel’s Public Broadcasting Corporation, reported this week the US is unhappy about increased Chinese influence at the expanded Haifa port, which is being built by Israeli and Chinese companies, and starting in 2021 will be operated by Shanghai International Port Group.
Israel has been warned by US officials that China’s role in running the Haifa port and other Israeli infrastructure would make it difficult to continue Israel’s cooperation with the US Navy.
“They just blew up at us,” senior Israeli officials said last November about a meeting with US officials about the increased Chinese involvement in large-scale infrastructure projects in Israel. By “just blew up,” Israeli officials meant the Americans issued an ultimatum: “Decide on your priorities about trade with China, or we will.”
The Trump administration sees China not only as a commercial competitor, but also a strategic threat to the US, considering China’s massive colonial expansion in Africa and South America. Coupled with the US’ tendency to withdraw from projects in the third world, this makes the Chinese global strategic threat very real.
The US is also borderline panicky about Israel’s cooperation with China, especially in hi tech, because so much Israeli security research and development relies on close cooperation with American companies, never mind the annual $3.8 billion the US gives Israel.
On Sunday, just before meeting Bolton, Prime Minister Netanyahu boasted at his weekly cabinet meeting that Israeli export to China rose by 56% in 2018. Back in 2014, Netanyahu designated the Chinese market as an excellent opportunity for Israel and passed a government decision to strengthen trade with China.
Back in 2000, the Americans vetoed an Israeli deal to sell Phalcon spy planes to the Chinese, and threatened to cut its aid money. Israel blinked first.
MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) last month submitted a bill proposing a committee to be run by the head of the National Security Council to approve foreign purchase transactions. The committee would include representatives of the Ministries of Finance and Foreign Affairs, the Shin Bet, the National Cyber Network and the National Economic Council.
Shelah suggested that security professionals must be consulted in every large scale transaction and major infrastructure project. The committee will not have veto power, but will be able to present the security considerations arising from foreign transactions.