China Values Its Ties with Iran More Than Its Ties with Israel

July 31, 2020 | Jacob Nagel and Mark Dubowitz
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Beijing and Tehran are reportedly on the cusp of concluding a massive agreement that would involve military cooperation and $400 billion of Chinese investment in the Iranian economy over the next 25 years. While Israel has for some time enjoyed growing and beneficial economic relations with China, Jacob Nagel and Mark Dubowitz contend that these do not offset the dangers of the world’s second-most powerful country siding with Israel’s most dangerous enemy:

For Israel, this is a clear sign that it is time to pivot from Beijing. . . . The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is also the most dangerous adversary of the United States—Israel’s most valuable ally. The Chinese Communists are serial proliferators of nuclear and missile technology to rogue regimes like Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan. They threaten Hong Kong and Taiwan. They are militarizing the South China Sea, weaponizing data, stealing intellectual property on a massive scale and committing shocking human-rights abuses, including forcing more than one million Uighur Muslims into concentration camps.

But for Israel, decoupling won’t be simple. China is one of Israel’s largest trading partners and sources of foreign investment, alongside the United States and Europe. . . . Beijing sees Israeli critical infrastructure as part of its Belt and Road Initiative (a trillion-dollar global land, sea, and communications program spanning more than 100 countries). This includes the Haifa port (where the U.S. Sixth Fleet docks), the port of Ashdod, underground tunnels and control systems in the northern Carmel mountains, and Tel Aviv’s subway system. The strategic importance of this infrastructure is clear, given that some of it runs alongside key military installations, major businesses, food suppliers, and other essential Israeli military and civilian services.

Israeli strategic planners may be tempted by the idea that China-Israel economic ties could offset Beijing’s growing partnership with Tehran. That is a delusion. The CCP will acquire everything it can from both Israel and Iran without fear or favor. And, if forced to choose, it will choose the Islamic Republic. Iran provides critical energy supplies to China that Israel cannot match. Its population is eight times larger. Its land mass is 75 times greater. It occupies a much more strategic territory for the Belt and Road. And the Islamic Republic is an American enemy, which Beijing can leverage in its global contest with the U.S.

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