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CIA chief told Bennett of US worries over Chinese influence in Israel — report

William Burns is reportedly the most senior Biden administration official to express concern about Jerusalem’s ties with Beijing

CIA chief William Burns, left, meets with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Jerusalem, August 11, 2021. (Amos Ben-Gershon/GPO)
CIA chief William Burns, left, meets with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Jerusalem, August 11, 2021. (Amos Ben-Gershon/GPO)

CIA director Willian Burns reportedly raised US concerns over increasing Chinese investment and involvement in Israel — particularly its tech sector — during his meeting last week with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Jerusalem.

According to an Axios report Wednesday, Burns was the most senior American official to issue such a warning since US President Joe Biden took office in January, after Israel’s ties with China emerged as a rare source of friction with Washington during the Trump administration.

The report said Bennett, who replaced longtime premier Benjamin Netanyahu in June, responded that Israel not only understands the US concerns but shares some of them. As an example, he mentioned recent press reports about a wide-ranging Chinese cyberattack against Israeli tech companies two years ago.

“In recent months, we started a dialogue with the Biden administration on China. The US asked about specific projects like the Chinese involvement in the Tel Aviv metro,” a senior Israeli official told the website.

The official added: “We told the Americans we welcome US infrastructure companies to work on big projects in Israel, but they haven’t been applying for the tenders.”

Further talks are expected to be held in the coming months on Israel’s ties with China, according to the report, which said the National Security Council was coordinating Israeli policy on the matter.

It was unclear if the issue would be raised during Bennett’s scheduled visit to the White House next week.

Then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, March 21, 2017. (Xinhua/Rao Ainmin/ via JTA)

Israel has been caught between China and the US in recent years, as the two rivals seek to wield global influence while Jerusalem tries to maintain friendly relations and trade ties with Beijing.

US officials have warned against Chinese investments in Israeli tech firms and involvement in Israel’s infrastructure, especially a Chinese company’s work at Haifa’s port.

China has also bid for, or been involved with, Israeli tunnel construction, railways, desalination plants, agriculture projects and 5G network infrastructure.

Israel has been working for years to expand trade with China, one of the world’s largest markets.

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