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

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

While Israel Is Distracted on Two Fronts, Iran Is on the Verge of Building Nuclear Weapons

Iran recently announced its plans to install over 1,000 new advanced centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. Once they are up and running, the Institute for Science and International Security assesses, Fordow will be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for three nuclear bombs in a mere ten days. The U.S. has remained indifferent. Jacob Nagel writes:

For more than two decades, Iran has continued its efforts to enhance its nuclear-weapons capability—mainly by enriching uranium—causing Israel and the world to concentrate on the fissile material. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently confirmed that Iran has a huge stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent, as well as more enriched to 20 percent, and the IAEA board of governors adopted the E3 (France, Germany, UK) proposed resolution to censure Iran for the violations and lack of cooperation with the agency. The Biden administration tried to block it, but joined the resolution when it understood its efforts to block it had failed.

To clarify, enrichment of uranium above 20 percent is unnecessary for most civilian purposes, and transforming 20-percent-enriched uranium to the 90-percent-enriched product necessary for producing weapons is a relatively small step. Washington’s reluctance even to express concern about this development appears to stem from an unwillingness to acknowledge the failures of President Obama’s nuclear policy. Worse, writes Nagel, it is turning a blind eye to efforts at weaponization. But Israel has no such luxury:

Israel must adopt a totally new approach, concentrating mainly on two main efforts: [halting] Iran’s weaponization actions and weakening the regime hoping it will lead to its replacement. Israel should continue the fight against Iran’s enrichment facilities (especially against the new deep underground facility being built near Natanz) and uranium stockpiles, but it should not be the only goal, and for sure not the priority.

The biggest danger threatening Israel’s existence remains the nuclear program. It would be better to confront this threat with Washington, but Israel also must be fully prepared to do it alone.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy