The U.S. seems to be displeased and disappointed with the recent wave of Chinese investments in Israel and its increasing economic and technological cooperation with China. Amid promises that the U.S. will assure Israel's safety after pulling its troops out of Syria, China's warm relations with Israel and its latest investment in the port of Haifa have sparked controversy. U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton, who paid an official visit to Israel to discuss the situation in Syria and the bilateral relations, voiced the U.S. government's concerns.
Bolton's statement was nothing new as former high-positioned U.S. officials had also warned Israel to stay away from China. According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, Pentagon officials and the Joint Chiefs of Staff had previously warned Israel on China's involvement in building the port and other Israeli infrastructure projects, saying it would make cooperation with the U.S. Navy difficult.
Since its establishment in 1948, Israel has depended heavily on U.S. economic, military and strategic aid and cooperation. However, China's increasing role in the region through investments is slowly being felt in Israel as well. Bilateral trade has increased by more than 200 fold. The trade budget between Israel and China was around $50 million in 1992 when diplomatic relations between the two were established. That figure saw a staggering increase to reach $10 billion in 2013.
In 2016, total Chinese investments in Israel were estimated at $16 billion. The so-called Chinese project, Belt and Road Initiative involves Israel as well and it may as well become one of its biggest parties for having docks on the Mediterranean Sea. It is true that the U.S. is still Israel's best trade partner. Moreover, Washington's provides Israel with annual aid of $3.8 billion. Still, China's initiative is a worrying sign for the U.S.
Its main concern may not be the simple trade relations. Haaretz claimed that "the Americans aren't trying to block all Israeli trade with China, but their opposition to it supplying technology to China that could have intelligence and military ramifications is being expressed publicly." It is understood that the issue may be more serious than it appears to be. A senior official told the newspaper that "the rift was so great that to this day Israel wouldn't dare sell China a kitchen knife with an [army symbol] engraved on it."
Amid the talks about the future of Israel, in accordance with the war in Syria and expanding the anti-Iran alliance, Israel's growing ties with China may affect its relations with the U.S. For instance, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Bolton that the U.S. should recognize Israel's sovereignty over the contested Golan Heights. "The Golan Heights is tremendously important for our security," said Netanyahu. The U.S., on the other hand, believes that any prospective Israeli technology and military equipment exchange with China is important for its security.
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