A top Israeli military and energy official has questioned Israel and China’s growing economic ties just as a Chinese company is set to begin operating Haifa Port as part of a major 25-year contract previously struck in 2015.
“When China acquires ports,” Israeli Brigadier General Shaul Horev began in an interview this week with national news source, Arutz Sheva, “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?”
Gen. Horev, who has also served as navy chief of staff and chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, continued to sound the alarm over a Chinese takeover, “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.”
He is calling for an Israeli security mechanism that that will review and scrutinize Chinese investments in Israel and the Mediterranean to ensure they don’t harm the security interests of Israel or its partners, like the United States.
The Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG) will manage Israel’s largest port at Haifa as part of a contract to be inagurated in 2021, which will run for 25 years. Meanwhile a separate Chinese firm was recently awarded a contract to construct a new port in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod.
According to various reports China has been spending roughly $150bn a year in the countries involved in its massive Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which seeks to link Asia, Europe, and Africa in a vast Chinese-underwritten free trade infrastructure. Mediterranean outposts like Haifa are a key link in this corridor, a corridor which China hopes will be fully established as a “21st century Silk Road” by 2049.
But as we’ve noted recently, major multi-billion dollar infrastructural projects in host counties could come at a cost, namely it could open the door to Chinese spying and expanding influence of its security services.