Israel Is Giving China the Keys to Its Largest Port – and the U.S. Navy May Abandon Israel


Israel Is Giving China the Keys to Its Largest Port – and the U.S. Navy May Abandon Israel

China will operate Haifa port, near Israel’s alleged nuclear-armed submarines, and it seems no one in Israel thought about the strategic ramifications

Shaul Horev dropped a bombshell, but hardly anyone noticed. Horev, an Israel Defense Forces reservist brigadier general who has served, among other posts, as the navy chief of staff and chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, is currently director of the Research Center for Maritime Policy and Strategy at the University of Haifa. At the end of August, the center held a conference, to which participants from the United States were invited, to examine security issues relating to Israel and the Mediterranean region.

In an interview with the religious-Zionist media outlet Arutz Sheva, Prof. Horev noted that one topic that came up at the event was Chinese investments in Mediterranean ports, and in Israel in particular. Pointing out that a Chinese company will soon start operating Haifa Port, he said that Israel needs to create a mechanism that will examine Chinese investments to ensure that they do not put Israel’s security interests at risk.

“When China acquires ports,” Horev said, “it does so under the guise of maintaining a trade route from the Indian Ocean via the Suez Canal to Europe, such as the port of Piraeus in Greece. Does an economic horizon like this have a security impact? We are not weighing that possibility sufficiently. One of the senior American figures at the conference raised the question of whether the U.S. Sixth Fleet can see Haifa as a home port. In light of the Chinese takeover, the question is no longer on the agenda.”

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Horev also noted that the Americans are now turning most of their attention to the southern China Sea and the Persian Gulf, at the expense of the Middle East. In a period like this, he said, it would be right for Israel to bolster its status as a strategic base for the Americans.

Israeli, Chinese and Dutch officials sign agreements for foreign operation of Haifa and Ashdod ports, in 2015.
Nir Keidar

In Chinese eyes, as I have written before, Israel is barely a speck on the great world map. China is looking to the long term, is building projects and expanding ties as part of its “one belt, one road” initiative (aka, the “economic Silk Road”): the strategy that aims to extend Beijing’s economic influence and upgrade its global status. China is not necessarily hostile to Israel, but its interests are tangled and complex, and certainly don’t recall in any way those underlying the strong alliance between America and Israel.

A good example: China’s close ties to Iran, against the backdrop of its consumption of Iranian oil. The remarks of the senior American figure quoted by Horev need to serve as a warning light. Israel must upgrade its transportation infrastructures, and there’s nothing wrong with improving its trade relations with China. However, the question is whether the decisions that have been made took into account all the relevant considerations – and the possible risks.