The Prime Minister’s Office declined comment Monday on whether Ambassador to
Washington Michael Oren was called to Jerusalem last weekend to discuss US anger
that Israel is blocking a former intelligence official from testifying in a US
court case against a Chinese bank suspected of money laundering to Palestinian
“We are not commenting,” one official in the Prime
Minister’s Office said.
Yediot Aharonot reported on Monday that Oren was
called back to take part in an “emergency” meeting stemming from US anger that
Jerusalem allegedly backed out of an agreement to allow an intelligence official
be deposed in a case against the Bank of China brought – at Israel’s behest in
2008 – by the parents of Daniel Wultz, whom an Islamic Jihad terrorist had
killed in Tel Aviv two years earlier.
According to the suit, the Chinese
bank funneled money from Iran to Islamic terrorists in a money-laundering
An extensive piece in The Wall Street Journal three weeks ago
said that the intelligence officer’s testimony was crucial, because he was
expected to testify that he was present at 2005 meetings when Israel officials
told Beijing that Bank of China accounts were being used to fund terrorist
organizations. This testimony is needed, the report said, to show the Bank of
China was culpable for refusing to act to close the accounts.
said that the court case put Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in a bind between
nurturing a growing relationship with China, and fighting
Yediot reported that Beijing threatened to cancel Netanyahu’s
trip there in May if the former intelligence official was allowed to
Netanyahu, who has built a reputation over the years as
uncompromising in his battle against terrorism, has also recently characterized
developing a closer economic relationship with China as one of the country’s
main strategic priorities.
Complicating matters even more, the Journal
wrote, is that if Israel prevents the testimony, Netanyahu would risk alienating
two key congressional allies, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), a member of
the House Foreign Affairs Committee who has urged the prime minister to allow
the testimony, and House Majority leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia), who is the
first cousin of Wultz’s mother.
Netanyahu’s dilemma carries faint echoes
of 2000 when Israel – under heavy US pressure – backed out of multi-billion
dollar deal to sell Phalcon airborne early warning and control systems (AWACS)
to China. Israel had to pay China a $300 million compensation package for
scuttling that deal.
While the Prime Minister’s Office had no comment on
the matter, International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz told Israel Radio
that he was convinced Netanyahu was “working for the benefit of Israel’s
Israel’s interests, he said, were “certainly complex” and
include an uncompromising fight against terrorism, the best possible
relationship with the US, and relations with China – which he characterized as
strategically and economically important.