Aug 18, 2021 - World

Scoop: CIA director raised China concerns with Israeli prime minister

The U.S. has raised concerns about Chinese investment in the Port of Haifa project.

The U.S. has raised concerns about Chinese investment in the Port of Haifa project. Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty

While visiting Israel last week, CIA director Bill Burns told Prime Minister Naftali Bennett the U.S. was concerned about Chinese investments in Israel, particularly in the tech sector, and involvement in major infrastructure projects, Israeli officials tell Axios.

Why it matters: That's the highest level at which the Biden administration has raised an issue that previously became a rare point of contention between the Trump and Netanyahu governments.

  • The Trump administration had warned that further Chinese involvement in big infrastructure projects, like the new port in Haifa, could damage the U.S.-Israel security relationship.
  • But the Netanyahu government had made a priority of deepening ties with China and dragged its feet on the issue, despite pledging to change course.

Bennett told Burns that Israel understands the U.S. concerns and shares some of them.

  • As an example, he mentioned recent press reports about a wide-ranging Chinese cyberattack against Israeli tech companies two years ago, Israeli officials said.

What they're saying: "In recent months, we started a dialogue with the Biden administration on China. The U.S. asked about specific projects like the Chinese involvement in the Tel Aviv metro. We told the Americans we welcome U.S. infrastructure companies to work on big projects in Israel but they don’t apply to the tenders," a senior Israeli official told me.

  • Meanwhile, at a Senate hearing last week, State Department and Pentagon officials said the Biden administration had warned its partners in the Middle East that China wasn't interested in their security needs or in regional stability and that further Chinese involvement could eventually compromise their sovereignty and security relationships with the U.S.
  • “We know our partners and allies in the Middle East have trade relations with China and that’s OK, … but we made it clear that there is a certain kind of cooperation with China we cannot live with," said the State Department's Mira Resnick.

What’s next: Israeli officials expect more talks on this issue in the coming months between the Israeli National Security Council, which is coordinating policy on China, and the White House.

Go deeper