HS Prometheus in Haifa port.
(photo credit: ANNA AHRONHEIM)
WASHINGTON – National Security Adviser John Bolton raised US concerns on Sunday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over China’s creeping role in Israel’s critical infrastructure, particularly its upcoming management of Haifa Port, a frequent dock for the US Sixth Fleet.
White House officials confirmed to The Jerusalem Post that Bolton raised the Haifa matter. The Post exclusively reported last month that the US Navy might change its longstanding operations there once the Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG) – a company in which the Chinese government has a majority stake – takes over the city’s civilian port in 2021.
Senior Israeli officials recently told the Post they are aware of Washington’s concerns and are working to address them.
“The State of Israel is dealing with all aspects connected to the establishment and management of infrastructure by foreign companies in Israel,” Transportation Minister Israel Katz, who pioneered the project and is also a member of the security cabinet, said.
Israeli officials have also confirmed that the government is reviewing how to ensure that Chinese construction and management of the port does not adversely impact ties with the US. The Americans are said to be concerned that China will use the port to improve its standing in the Middle East and potentially gather intelligence on US interests.
Foreign and defense ministry officials have raised internal concerns with how the SIPG was handled in the first place, when the agreement first concluded in 2015. According to one source, several senior officials are expressing worry that sensitive infrastructure matters have not been properly vetted by Israel’s full national security cabinet prior to approval.
“You don’t want a decision that was made ostensibly for business reasons to have an impact on Israel’s relationship with the American Navy,” the source said.
News of an interagency review in Israel comes amid a spike in tensions between Washington and Beijing, and growing discomfort within Israel over China’s increased activity in its national infrastructure projects.
The Israeli security cabinet recently convened to discuss friction with the Trump administration over the port and agreed to set up a mechanism to prevent possible problems with the Americans. Israeli officials did not immediately confirm whether Netanyahu presented this mechanism to Bolton on Sunday, or whether it would assuage US concerns.
Commander Kyle Raines from the Sixth Fleet said last month there were currently no changes to operations in Israel. But “I can’t speculate on what might or might not occur in 2021,” he added, asked whether China’s coming presence might affect fleet operations in the Mediterranean city.
SIPG operates the largest port in the world in Shanghai and was the sole bidder for the Haifa project. It plans on expanding the bay terminal into Israel’s largest harbor over the life of its 25-year contract with the government.
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