Beijing’s Popular, Hebrew-Speaking PR Man in Israel Masks an Unequal Power Dynamic

Jan. 11 2022

In the coastal city of Haifa, a new, expanded, and fully modernized port has just opened—run by a Chinese company. The project raised eyebrows in Washington, tied to to long-running disagreements over the implications of Jerusalem’s economic relations with Beijing. Matti Friedman explores the issue by profiling a man known as “Chinese Itzik,” the Communist country’s Hebrew-speaking, media-savvy public-relations man in Israel:

In 2009, with China taking a greater interest in Israel, he was selected to run the Hebrew desk at China Radio International, a state outfit that might uncharitably be called a propaganda arm or, more generously, a showcase for China’s best self. (The Hebrew desk doesn’t actually broadcast radio, only videos.) The CRI website has a lot of upbeat content about, for example, the many plusses of life in Xinjiang. In Itzik’s rise from an obscure city to an elite college, then to studies abroad, and then to an official media job, it’s possible to sense the hand of the state identifying and promoting a gifted young person.

In one video (not available in the U.S.), he joins Golani Brigade soldiers in basic training, getting his shaggy hair buzzed by an army barber and struggling to clear a concrete wall in the obstacle course. He’s impressed! The tough guys from Golani play along, hands on their rifles. They look down on their funny guest from China and miss the real power dynamic—that the visitor represents a superpower that is rewiring the planet, while they represent a country whose entire population is the size of minor Chinese cities that even people in China probably haven’t heard of.

Itzik is worth watching not just because he’s entertaining and interesting, but because he’s a way to understand how China would like to talk to Israelis now. Someone there is watching us carefully and learning fast. It was only in 2014 that the local Chinese embassy hosted Liu Qibao, a member of the Politburo, for a speech at Tel Aviv University, and asked university administrators to instruct students to stand outside the building waving Chinese flags.

Read more at Tablet

More about: China, Haifa, Israel-China relations

Iran’s Four-Decade Strategy to Envelope Israel in Terror

Yesterday, the head of the Shin Bet—Israel’s internal security service—was in Washington meeting with officials from the State Department, CIA, and the White House itself. Among the topics no doubt discussed are rising tensions with Iran and the possibility that the latter, in order to defend its nuclear program, will instruct its network of proxies in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and even Iraq and Yemen to attack the Jewish state. Oved Lobel explores the history of this network, which, he argues, predates Iran’s Islamic Revolution—when Shiite radicals in Lebanon coordinated with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s movement in Iran:

An inextricably linked Iran-Syria-Palestinian axis has actually been in existence since the early 1970s, with Lebanon the geographical fulcrum of the relationship and Damascus serving as the primary operational headquarters. Lebanon, from the 1980s until 2005, was under the direct military control of Syria, which itself slowly transformed from an ally to a client of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The nexus among Damascus, Beirut, and the Palestinian territories should therefore always have been viewed as one front, both geographically and operationally. It’s clear that the multifront-war strategy was already in operation during the first intifada years, from 1987 to 1993.

[An] Iranian-organized conference in 1991, the first of many, . . . established the “Damascus 10”—an alliance of ten Palestinian factions that rejected any peace process with Israel. According to the former Hamas spokesperson and senior official Ibrahim Ghosheh, he spoke to then-Hizballah Secretary-General Abbas al-Musawi at the conference and coordinated Hizballah attacks from Lebanon in support of the intifada. Further important meetings between Hamas and the Iranian regime were held in 1999 and 2000, while the IRGC constantly met with its agents in Damascus to encourage coordinated attacks on Israel.

For some reason, Hizballah’s guerilla war against Israel in Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s was, and often still is, viewed as a separate phenomenon from the first intifada, when they were in fact two fronts in the same battle.

Israel opted for a perilous unconditional withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000, which Hamas’s Ghosheh asserts was a “direct factor” in precipitating the start of the second intifada later that same year.

Read more at Australia/Israel Review

More about: First intifada, Hizballah, Iran, Palestinian terror, Second Intifada