Pompeo warns US could curb security ties with Israel over China relations

Pompeo warns US could curb security ties with Israel over China relations

Secretary’s statements come as Israel steps up trade and business ties with Beijing, which has made key investments in Israeli economy, including strategic Haifa port

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister at his residence in Jerusalem on March 21, 2019.  (Photo by AMIR COHEN / AFP)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister at his residence in Jerusalem on March 21, 2019. (Photo by AMIR COHEN / AFP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a stark warning to Israel on Thursday that the close security ties between the two nations could be reduced over Israel’s growing cooperation with China.

Pompeo’s warnings came on the same day that the US made an unprecedented show of support for Israel, effectively recognizing its hold on the Golan Heights and having the top US diplomat make a symbolic visit to the Western Wall accompanied by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Nevertheless, Pompeo cautioned that unless Israel re-evaluates its cooperation with China, it could see the US reduce “intelligence sharing and co-location of security facilities.”

Speaking to Israel’s Channel 13, Pompeo highlighted the risks posed by China.

“China broadly presents a real opportunity, they are an economic powerhouse and there are lots of opportunities for countries to do business with China. When China behaves transparently, when China is engaged in real economic transactions, we are untroubled,” Pompeo said.

However, he warned that China also posed risks, using “debt as a trap” and  “engages in spying through its commercial state-owned enterprises and presents risk through its technology systems, companies like Huawei,” Pompeo said, adding that these “present real risks to the people of Israel.

“We want to make sure every country is wide-eyed and awake with regard to the policy threats posed by China,” he said. “America will have to make decisions too. If certain systems go in certain places then America’s efforts to work alongside you will be more difficult, and in some places we wont be able to do so.

“Intelligence sharing might have to be reduced, co-location of security facilities might have to be reduced, we want to make sure countries understand this and know the risks,” he said.

It’s not the first time the US has warned Israel over its ties with China.

A soldier walks on the deck of the US aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush, as it docks outside Haifa port, on July 3, 2017. (AFP Photo/AFP Photo and Pool/Ronen Zvulun)

In January, a senior US energy official warned that unless Israel implements stringent screening procedures for Chinese investments, intelligence sharing between the two allies could be threatened.

US Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette spoke while visiting Israel for meetings that included talks with Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz and the head of Israel’s cyber directorate.

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

In January, the head of Israel’s Shin Bet security agency was said to raise similar concerns over China’s involvement in the country’s national infrastructure.

Channel 10 (now merged into Channel 13) reported then that Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman warned massive Chinese investment in Israel could pose a danger to national security.

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

“Chinese influence in Israel is particularly dangerous in terms of strategic infrastructure and investments in larger companies,” 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 advised the Knesset to pass legislation to monitor foreign investment in Israel.

In October Netanyahu and China’s Vice President Wang Qishan co-hosted a high-profile trade and innovation conference in Jerusalem. Netanyahu announced at the time that the two countries would complete a free trade agreement in 2019, and that China plans to invest heavily in Israeli infrastructure, including new ports and a light rail.

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

During his visit to Israel earlier this year, US National Security Adviser John Bolton encouraged Israeli officials to take a tougher stance against Chinese electronics manufacturers ZTE and Huawei.

“We are all concerned about theft of intellectual property and Chinese telecoms companies that are being used by China for intelligence-gathering purposes,” said a senior administration official who was briefed on the talks, according to Reuters.

China’s Premier Li Keqiang and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 20, 2017 (Raphael Ahren / Times of Israel)

According to the report, the administration does not want there to be any obstacles to block the sharing of sensitive information with the Israelis. The senior official singled out concerns about Chinese technology and investment at the port of Haifa.

“We specifically put it on the agenda,” the official said.

Several analysts and officials have 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.

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