Three Chinese warships are in Haifa Port as part of a four-day goodwill visit marking 20 years of Sino-Israeli diplomatic relations — the first time Chinese naval ships have docked in Israel.
The visit, which includes tours and celebratory events, comes amid reports of strengthening military and diplomatic ties between China and Israel. China is a top Israeli trading partner but military ties suffered over the last decade, in part because the US aborted Israel’s sale of reconnaissance aircraft to Beijing.
Three months ago, Israel Defense Forces Chief of the General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz visited China as part of an initiative to boost military relations. It was the first visit of an IDF chief since 1968, and aimed to strengthen ties amid Beijing’s growing interests in the Mediterranean and Middle East regions.
China’s Chief of General Staff General Chen Bingde also toured Israel last year.
One area in which China and Israel are believed to be coordinating is anti-piracy and counterterror operations near the Horn of Africa. Washington is reportedly skeptical about such cooperation, according to the Defense News military bulletin.
Another sign of Sino-Israeli warming is a new agreement to build a cargo rail line that will link Israel’s Ashdod and Haifa ports with Eilat, enabling China to bypass Egypt’s Suez Canal for exports to the West. There are also plans to extend the line to Jordan’s Aqaba port, and other future shared projects.
Minister of Transport Yisrael Katz and China’s Minister of Transport Li Shenglin signed a memorandum of understanding in Beijing in early July.
The visiting flotilla — the “Qingdao” guided missile destroyer, “Yantai” guided missile frigate and “Weishan Lake” comprehensive supply ship — is part of the 11th Chinese naval escort task force of the Chinese Navy. It is under the direction of rear Adm. Yang Junfei, deputy commander of China’s fleet in the North China Sea, the highest-ranking Chinese officer ever to pay an official visit to Israel.