Security concerns prompt Haifa investigation
In a move that could have repercussions for China’s investment in overseas ports, Israel has launched a review into a Chinese deal to develop part of the port of Haifa, amid US security concerns.
The port is home to Israel’s naval base and also provides repair and support facilities for the US Navy Sixth Fleet and hosts joint US/Israeli naval exercises.
In 2015, China’s state-owned Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG) was awarded the contract to operate the port’s new terminal for a total of 25 years, investing around US$265m together with a licence fee and usage rights.
However, both US and Israeli officials are now raising security concerns about the plans with Israel’s Jerusalem Post announcing that the Israeli government has launched a ‘review of the agreement at a high level’.
Citing three unnamed sources, the Jerusalem Post reported that the review was started after unidentified US defence officials privately raised concerns with their Israeli counterparts. An unidentified senior officer with Israel’s military has confirmed that the review is underway, according to the newspaper.
Other sources are also reporting concerns. According to Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, the decision to award the contract was made without input from the country’s National Security Council or the Israeli navy.
Furthermore, retired US admiral, Gary Roughead, expressed fear about the deal in an interview with Newsweek magazine. “The Chinese port operators will be able to monitor closely US ship movements, be aware of maintenance activity, and could have access to equipment moving to and from repair sites, and interact freely with our crews over protracted periods.”
Washington-based non-profit think tank, The Middle East Institute, laid out what it sees as security risks warning that, given well-documented cases of Chinese espionage and cyber attacks against US companies, the regime’s presence at Haifa could be a serious threat.
China, through its ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative aimed at establishing Beijing-centred trade routes throughout the world, has invested heavily in European ports and is also active in another major Israeli port, the Port of Ashdod, which it regards as crucial for Chinese trade with Europe.
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