What Impact Could Israel Have On China-US Relations?

In May 2019, Haaretz reported that the Israeli Finance Ministry published a controversial tender to build a new water desalination plant dubbed Soreq B. According to the publication, the new facility will be the biggest of its kind in the world. Early estimates predict it will be able to produce 200 million cubic metres of water annually. Controversially, the Chinese Hutchinson Company appears close to winning the contract despite pressure from the US to halt large infrastructure projects with the Chinese for fear that it could lead to the exposure of Israeli intelligence. This claim was supported by the Defence Ministry’s Security Authority, Nir Ben-Moshe.

Haaretz columnist Zhan Yongxin claims that Israel has nothing to fear from China. He disputes claims that the Chinese are investing in this country to steal their intelligence. Instead, Yongxin highlights the advantages that their relationship brings to the Israelis. The China-Israel Innovative Comprehensive Partnership has yielded fruitful results in trade, infrastructure, innovation and culture. The Haaretz columnist claims this agreement will pave the way for future Chinese investment in Israel.

At Ashdod’s new port, the Chinese purchase goods and services from over 200 Israeli partners, which creates thousands of jobs. In the Tel Aviv Red Line project, a Chinese company has signed supply contracts with more than 300 Israeli counterparts. Hafia’s new port was built by a Chinese business called the SIPG, which processed 42 million TEUs in 2018 and could process 1.9 million TEUs each year if the project is constructed on time. According to Yongxin, all Chinese business is conducted in a fair and transparent way. Chinese investment has definitely helped create new jobs in Israel.

Furthermore, there is the potential for Israel to act as a balancing force between the US and China. The Diplomat’s Shira Efron writes that Israel seeks to expand its economic and diplomatic ties with one of the world’s fastest growing economies as it aims to diversify its export market away from America and Europe. China on its end views Israel as a country that can help them spur innovation, research and development. There is a geo-political dimension for China too: if they can maintain good relations with one of the US’s top Middle Eastern allies, according to Efron, it could help undermine America’s partner networks. This could lead to Jerusalem’s interests diverging from Washington’s, which carries many potential risks for the relationship both nations currently enjoy.

South Morning China post columnist Mario Mancuso predicts that the Sino-Israeli ‘romance’ could soon end in the next 12 to 18 months. This is because Israel will seek to blunt Beijing’s investment and diplomatic push into Jerusalem, as demonstrated by Ben-Moshe’s concerns over Soreq B. The Israelis also deeply care about their relationship with the US and its new centre-right coalition is supported by Donald Trump, who relocated the US embassy to Jerusalem and recognised Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. These are political gestures the Chinese are yet to return, which means the US President has Netanyahu’s ear.

Israeli security strategists are concerned about China’s relationship of energy dependency with Iran, Jerusalem’s enemy, and as long as Beijing remains dependent upon Tehran in this sense, an element of mistrust towards the Chinese will remain among Israeli politicians. This is why Mancuso predicts the Sino-Israeli ‘romance’ will be undermined in the long-term by Israeli security strategists.

Israel is in an unfortunate position with China. Whilst Chinese investment brings wealth and jobs to Jerusalem, its long-standing relationship with Iran remains a significant security concern. Also, the current Israeli government values its relationship with the US as long as Trump remains President. The foundations behind Mancuso’s claims that Israel will start to distance itself from China will be justified by whether or not the Hutchinson Company wins the contract for Soreq B. The question remains: where does Jerusalem go from here?