China’s Middle East Ambitions Go Far Beyond Commerce

Feb. 21 2023

According to much conventional wisdom, Beijing’s involvement in North Africa and the Middle East revolves primarily around the economic goals of purchasing oil and engaging in trade. Tuvia Gering argues that Chinese aims are in fact political and military as well as economic, and include the provision of “limited security alternatives that directly and indirectly undermine U.S. dominance even without displacing it.” Moreover, writes Gering, China’s actual policies do “a disservice to its stated objectives of regional peace and security.”

In 2017, the PLA set up its first overseas military base in Djibouti, a stone’s throw away from the U.S. military’s Camp Lemonnier, the nerve center of its Combined Joint Task Force–Horn of Africa. With a maximum capacity of 7,000 people, the soi-disant “logistical support base” has been working nonstop throughout the pandemic to expand its facilities and deep-water berths to accommodate power-projection aircrafts and vessels.

Military visits and exercises have also increased in the last ten years, albeit still on a much smaller scale than those of the United States. In November 2019, the Chinese military held a three-week joint naval drill with its alternate top oil supplier, Saudi Arabia, which was quickly followed by a trilateral training with Iran and Russia. Another naval exercise with Moscow and Tehran was held in the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean in early 2022.

And despite its supposedly good relations with Jerusalem, Beijing has hardly been neutral on the Israel-Palestinian question:

Chinese policymakers, all the way up to Xi Jinping, insist that [the conflict] is the “core” issue affecting Middle East peace and stability, and Beijing’s UN representative, Zhang Jun, has been raising the issue every month of the year like clockwork. The problems with China’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are threefold, beginning with its detachment from regional trends [which] suggest that a two-state solution is not a prerequisite for regional prosperity and that the “core” issue in the minds of regional leaders is ensuring their own peace and prosperity, which Iran and its proxies jeopardize.

China, meanwhile, seems to be stuck in the Zeitgeist of the anti-Zionist [rhetoric of the cold-war era], as evidenced by its biased support of Ramallah and its relentless votes against Israel in international forums, as well as its constant whitewashing of Palestinian and Iranian terrorism and incitement. Second, Beijing’s strategy relies mostly on empty rhetoric and ham-fisted diplomacy.

Read more at Atlantic Council

More about: China, Israel-China relations, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

The U.S. Is Trying to Seduce Israel into Accepting a Bad Deal with Iran. Israel Should Say No

Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its quarterly report on the Iranian nuclear program. According to an analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security, the Islamic Republic can now produce enough weapons-grade uranium to manufacture “five nuclear weapons in one month, seven in two months, and a total of eight in three months.” The IAEA also has reason to believe that Tehran has further nuclear capabilities that it has successfully hidden from inspectors. David M. Weinberg is concerned about Washington’s response:

Believe it or not, the Biden administration apparently is once again offering the mullahs of Tehran a sweetheart deal: the release of $10 billion or more in frozen Iranian assets and clemency for Iran’s near-breakout nuclear advances of recent years, in exchange for Iranian release of American hostages and warmed-over pious Iranian pledges to freeze the Shiite atomic-bomb program.

This month, intelligence photos showed Iran again digging tunnels at its Natanz nuclear site—supposedly deep enough to withstand an American or Israeli military strike. This tells us that Iran has something to hide, a clear sign that it has not given up on its quest for a nuclear bomb.

Meanwhile, Antony Blinken today completes a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, where he is reportedly pressing the kingdom to enter the Abraham Accords. This is no coincidence, for reasons Weinberg explains:

Washington expects Israeli acquiescence in the emerging U.S. surrender to Iran in exchange for a series of other things important to Israel. These include U.S. backing for Israel against escalated Palestinian assaults expected this fall in UN forums, toning down U.S. criticism regarding settlement and security matters (at a time when the IDF is going to have to intensify its anti-terrorist operations in Judea and Samaria), an easing of U.S. pressures on Israel in connection with domestic matters (like judicial reform), a warm Washington visit for Prime Minister Netanyahu (which is not just a political concession but is rather critical to Israel’s overall deterrent posture), and most of all, significant American moves towards reconciliation with Saudi Arabia (which is critical to driving a breakthrough in Israeli-Saudi ties).

[But] even an expensive package of U.S. “concessions” to Saudi Arabia will not truly compensate for U.S. capitulation to Iran (something we know from experience will only embolden the hegemonic ambitions of the mullahs). And this capitulation will make it more difficult for the Saudis to embrace Israel publicly.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Antony Blinken, Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship