Israel Has Made Progress in Limiting China’s Involvement in Infrastructure Projects, but Risks Still Remain

June 17, 2020 | Galia Lavi and Shira Efron
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In 2018 and 2019, Mosaic warned of the dangers growing economic ties with Beijing pose to the Jewish state—focusing especially on the problems technological and infrastructure cooperation could create for relations with the U.S. Since October of last year, Jerusalem has taken important steps to coordinate with Washington to avoid friction over its dealings with China. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo even visited Israel last month to discuss the issue. Galia Lavi and Shira Efron evaluate the current situation:

Chinese companies have been involved in Israeli infrastructure projects for over fifteen years, including the Carmel Tunnels, the red line of the Tel Aviv Light Rail, the new Ashdod port, and the Bayport Terminal in Haifa. . . . Indeed, Israel has a real need for advanced infrastructures and Chinese companies have proven abilities in these realms. At the same time, decision makers in Jerusalem must internalize the recent change in the U.S. perspective, whereby in American eyes China has evolved from a competitor to a rival; this sentiment has been aggravated recently in light of the coronavirus crisis.

In the U.S. view, all Chinese companies are linked to the Chinese government and are thus motivated not only by business considerations but also by the geostrategic considerations of the Chinese Communist Party, whose interests clash with those of the United States. Another aspect of the Chinese strategy is the interface between military and civilian activities, and the use of civilian infrastructures for military needs. [Reportedly] there is concern that a high level of economic involvement in Israel is liable to give Beijing political leverage and increase potential Chinese influence over Jerusalem.

[But unlike in] other countries, the likelihood that China’s involvement in infrastructure in Israel will lead to a Chinese military presence or foothold in the country appears slim. However, another concern is over a Chinese presence near security installations that are frequented by American forces—for example, the Haifa terminal port, a regular Sixth Fleet stop, and the Palmaḥim airbase. Furthermore, the building and operation of strategic infrastructures presents inherent cyber and security risks to Israel, and thus stirs fear in the United States about technologies that it shares with Israel being leaked due to Chinese espionage efforts.

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