Israel said to bar China, Turkey from bidding for $40 million airport tender

TV report: Beijing won’t be allowed to compete for infrastructure project due to espionage concerns, while Istanbul excluded amid ongoing tensions with Jerusalem

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, and China's President Xi Jinping shake hands prior to their meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 26, 2018 (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, and China's President Xi Jinping shake hands prior to their meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 26, 2018 (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)

Israel will bar China and Turkey from competing in the tender process for a massive infrastructure project involving the establishment of a new international airport, due to concerns over Beijing’s spying and tensions with Istanbul, Channel 13 news reported Thursday.

According to the report, it was decided that only NATO countries will be permitted to participate in the bidding process, as a means of excluding China from the competition. Officials decided that any bid from Turkey will automatically be excluded.

The tender is not for the completion of the project itself, but rather a NIS 150 million deal (some $40 million) for the initial stages, with the possibility of future involvement when the plan is implemented.

The policy change comes after the head of the Shin Bet security service reportedly warned earlier this month that massive Chinese investment in Israel could pose a danger to national security.

A view of Haifa bay, April 24, 2018. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

“Chinese influence in Israel is particularly dangerous in terms of strategic infrastructure and investments in larger companies,” Nadav Argaman said at a closed-door speech at Tel Aviv University.

Argaman noted that Chinese companies would be taking over operating part of the Haifa port and constructing the Tel Aviv light rail system, and were actively seeking to acquire other major Israeli firms.

Argaman said the Knesset needed to pass legislation to monitor foreign investment in Israel.

China and Israel have stepped up trade and business ties in recent years and have launched free trade talks.

Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman attends a Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on November 6, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Chinese firms have made major inroads in Israel, including the takeover of local food giant Tnuva in 2014, as well as deals to manage the key Haifa and Ashdod ports.

According to Israeli media reports, concerns of growing Chinese involvement in sectors critical to national security led to the Finance Ministry scuttling deals to purchase insurance companies Clal and Phoenix in 2016 and 2017. Argaman was reportedly involved in those decisions.

Several analysts and officials have in recent weeks expressed great concern over the deal that would put the Shanghai International Port Group in charge of Haifa port’s container terminal starting in 2021.

Allowing Beijing a foothold in so strategically important a location, close to an Israeli naval base, they fear, could compromise Israeli intelligence assets and even lead US military vessels to avoid docking at Haifa altogether.

According to a source familiar with the matter, the Transportation Ministry committed a grave error when it chose the Chinese without consulting the National Security Council.

Tensions between Jerusalam and Istanbul were ramped up in recent weeks when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of assaulting innocents and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded by accusing Turkey of killing Kurds in the Syrian border region. Turkey’s foreign minister then called Netanyahu a “baby killer.”

Erdogan is a staunch supporter of the Gaza-ruling terror group Hamas and a long-time harsh critic of Israel regularly likening its actions toward the Palestinians to the mass Nazi murder of Jews during the Holocaust.

Israel-Turkey relations have long been tense but reached a new nadir last May, in the aftermath of Israel’s response to violent protests on the Gaza border that were inspired by Hamas, and in which dozens of Palestinians were killed.

At the time, Erdogan placed the blame for the Gaza deaths squarely on Israel, accusing it of being a “terrorist state” that commits “genocide.” Then, too, Erdogan compared Israel’s actions to those of the Nazis. Turkey later recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv and expelled Israel’s envoys.

Israel responded in kind, with Netanyahu saying Erdogan “well understands terrorism and slaughter,” and should not lecture Israel about military ethics. Despite reports about Israeli-Turkish back channel talks trying to restore diplomatic relations, none of the envoys who were recalled have returned to their respective postings.

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