A travel mug given as a gift by the Chinese embassy in Israel to an Israeli minister was found to contain a component suspected to be a possible spying device, multiple Hebrew media outlets reported on Tuesday morning.
Update: After an investigation, the Shin Bet announced that there was nothing untoward in the mug or others like it sent to other Israeli ministries.
Army Radio first reported that a routine security check found that one of several such mugs sent by the Chinese embassy to government offices contained a suspicious part in it.
Further examination raised the suspicion that the component was a listening device and the Shin Bet was alerted. All mugs sent by the embassy were collected for further inspection, the reports said.
Moreover, all government offices have been told to be extra careful about receiving gifts from foreign entities as “they may contain listening devices or cameras.”
The suspicious mug was sent by the Chinese embassy to the Science and Technology Ministry and was most likely intended for Innovation, Science and Technology Minister Orit Farkash Hacohen, according to an unnamed Israeli official cited by the Walla news site.
The mug was examined before reaching her office, the official said, adding that a similar mug had been addressed to the office of Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli.
Both ministries are relevant for Israeli infrastructure projects China is interested in, the report noted.
Officials in the Foreign Ministry said it was looking into the incident, Channel 12 reported, noting that the details were still unclear.
The publication of such suspicions by multiple news outlets as an examination was still ongoing was notable, however.
Amid a US-China trade war that has ebbed and flowed in recent years under both the Trump and Biden administrations, Israel and China have seen warming relations and growing Chinese interest in Israeli innovations, especially in medical tech, robotics, food tech and artificial intelligence.
While the Biden administration has yet to make specific demands of Israel regarding its relations with China, the US has publicly brought up the Israeli relationship with China several times recently.
China’s growing economy is forcing Israel to reposition itself politically and economically with the rising superpower.
Data published by Israel’s National Bureau of Statistics in January indicated that in 2021 China became Israel’s largest source of imports, surpassing even the United States.
That same month, Israel and China held a joint committee on innovation cooperation, led by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and China’s Vice President Wang Qishan. The committee agreed to a three-year plan to regulate cooperation and government-to-government dialogue between the countries through 2024.
While gradually strengthening ties with Beijing, the Israeli government has also notified the Biden administration that it will keep the White House in the loop regarding significant deals it strikes with China and is prepared to reexamine such agreements if the US, Israel’s closest ally, raises opposition.