Israel Must Prepare for a Day When China Dominates the Middle East

According to multiple Israeli security officials, the Chinese government will likely take a leading role in funding the reconstruction of war-torn Syria. In recent years Beijing has become increasingly invested in the other parts of the Middle East as well, and Sino-Israeli relations have already caused friction between Jerusalem and Washington. Alex Fishman believes Israeli diplomats and military planners are woefully unprepared for the coming expansion of China’s regional influence:

Back in 2015, Israel allowed a Chinese company to operate parts of the Haifa port for the next 25 years, with an option to extend it for another 25. The decision was made without fully understanding the implications of long-term Chinese involvement in a key strategic infrastructure. The Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Finance were certain they were being sophisticated and everyone would get to enjoy the crumbs of Chinese trillions. But the crumbs come at a price. . . .

The Chinese involvement in Syria could be much more dramatic and complicated. . . . The Russians don’t have the ability to invest in Syria beyond military infrastructure, while Iran (another ally of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime) needs to rehabilitate itself first following the reintroduction of U.S. sanctions on the Islamic Republic. The Americans have no interest in investing there, . . . while the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia would never do anything that could potentially strengthen the Assad regime due to its close relationship with Tehran.

This leaves the Chinese—who have both money and interest, as part of their $900-billion New Silk Route initiative—as the only ones capable to take on a project of this scale. . . . Syria will never be able to pay back the Chinese government, therefore [leading to] a repeat of the investment model Beijing has established in Africa. China is building infrastructure in many African countries; since they are unable to repay the mounting debts, the Chinese companies are taking over these countries’ natural resources and subjugating state policies to accommodate China’s interests. . . . Israel, [for its part], will have to deal with the fact that its border with Syria will be under Chinese jurisdiction.

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Read more at Ynet

More about: China, Israel-China relations, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war

What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

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Read more at BESA Center

More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy