Aug 26, 2020 - World

U.S. presses Israel to cool ties with China over support for Iran

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Aug. 24. Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting in Jerusalem on Monday to further cool relations with China and limit Chinese investments in Israel over the new strategic partnership agreement China signed with Iran, Israeli and U.S. officials said.

Why it matters: The Trump administration has been lobbying Israel for two years to scale back its relations with China. Until now, those efforts have had very little success.

  • Many Trump administration officials remain frustrated by the Israeli position.
  • Upgrading relations with China — and enhancing trade and investments — was one of Netanyahu's main foreign policy objectives over the last decade.

What happened: U.S. officials said Pompeo raised several China-related concerns:

  • The U.S. wants Israel to sign a memorandum of understanding on 5G that would clearly ban Chinese companies from getting involved in communications infrastructure projects. Negotiations have made progress, but the Israelis are still trying to soften the language in order to prevent a crisis with China.
  • The U.S. wants Israel to upgrade its oversight mechanism on Chinese investments in the country. It currently is only voluntary and has no authority to block deals, but American officials want to see a mechanism "with real teeth."
  • The U.S. is unhappy with the fact that many Chinese-controlled companies are still competing for big infrastructure projects in Israel.

The big picture: U.S. envoy for Iran Brian Hook, who attended Pompeo’s meetings in Israel, told me that the U.S. stressed that Chinese support for Iran on the UN arms embargo and its strategic partnership agreement should change Israel’s calculations regarding China.

  • "China has made its bed with Iran. We think it is important to not let China have it both ways. They can’t strengthen Iran, which chants 'Death to Israel,' and have a business-as-usual relationship with Israel. We have been very clear about that. I am sure Israel will do the right thing on China."

The state of play: Hook added that China plans to start selling heavy weapons to Iran when the arms embargo expires in October, which he claimed would lead to an arms race in the region.

  • "It says a lot about China that they vote no to extend the arms embargo on Iran and enter a strategic agreement with Iran that will not be good for the security of Israel or the Gulf countries."
  • "People need to recognize that China is not a friend of the region. China does not share Israel’s security interests or those of our Gulf partners. It is important that we work together to counter China’s efforts to strengthen Iran."
Go deeper