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US warns Israel against Chinese investment, pushes ‘can’t be friends’ with China line

US warns Israel against Chinese investment, pushes ‘can’t be friends’ with China line
The United States is concerned about China’s deepening investment in Israel, and its latest military budget bill explicitly warns its Middle Eastern ally against doing business with Beijing, citing “security implications.”

Though President Donald Trump has repeatedly talked up his unwavering support for Israel and its now troubled prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the US Senate is becoming restless over China’s growing ties with the Jewish state.

In particular, Israel’s decision to lease a port in the northern city of Haifa to the Shanghai International Port Group has come under intense scrutiny. A draft text of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act – which sets out the US military’s budget and priorities for the forthcoming year – includes a specific reference to the port.

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As Haifa has long been a docking point for the US Sixth Fleet, the NDAA warns Israel that Washington “has serious security concerns with respect to the leasing arrangements,” and urges the Israeli government “to consider the security implications of foreign investment in Israel.”

The bill was passed on Thursday by the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), a staunch supporter of Israel. It will likely pass a full Senate vote before Congress breaks in August.

Inhofe’s warning builds on increasing anti-China pressure from the Trump administration. The Israeli government’s supposed reluctance to perform security vetting on Chinese investments has already angered the White House, as has Tel Aviv’s awarding of several key infrastructure contracts to Chinese companies. These include a $1 billion private port at Ashdod awarded to China Harbour Engineering Company, and a $4.1 billion contract for light rail transit in the Israeli capital, for which four state-owned Chinese firms are currently bidding.


American officials told the Israelis last year that “the United States could not be friends with a country for which China was building ports,” Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported. National Security Advisor John Bolton also raised spying concerns surrounding Chinese tech firms Huawei and ZTE with his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat in April. Both firms are currently bidding on Israel’s 5G network.

American lawmakers, particularly Republicans like Inhofe, are reluctant to criticize Israel. However, Washington does hold significant leverage in the form of the NDAA, which is adjusted every year to reflect US geopolitical goals.

In its current iteration, the $750 billion bill allocates more than $500 million to missile defense systems in Israel like the Iron Dome, David’s Sling, and Arrow 3. It also provides support for Israeli anti-drone systems, and operations against so-called ‘terror tunnels’ used by Palestinian militants to sneak into Israel. On top of the NDAA’s provisions, the US Senate passed a bill last year enshrining a $38 billion military aid package to Israel, to be administered over ten years.

Although the US underwrites a significant chunk of Israel’s defense and is reluctant to criticize the Jewish state, the Trump administration and Congress will possibly have to weigh the importance of the alliance with Israel against the need to counter China, raising new tensions between the long-time allies.

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