This past month, Israel opened a new $1.7 billion terminal in the Port of Haifa that would be run by Chinese state-owned Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG). This is one of the projects of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative in Israel. Others include a light rail system in Tel Aviv and surrounding areas as well as another port, the HaDarom Port. These projects equate to billions of dollars for China, and they help Israel to prosper as well.
We all know very well that nations lead largely because of their economic and militaristic power, not because of the moral high ground they have taken. Israel’s economic growth gives them more power, providing legitimacy to their approach to Palestinians and the “problem” they pose to Israel.
While Chinese investments account for only about ten percent of foreign capital in Israel, the US has voiced concerns that Chinese involvement opens an opportunity for them to surveille and bug US equipment.
The US has raised this concern in relation to the new port specifically, where they stated three years ago that the US Navy may not be able to dock at Haifa once the Chinese port is finished and SIPG takes control.
Considering the US government’s eternal support of Israel—just last month Congress approved more money for Iron Dome—it’s no surprise they feel they have some power to speak up when their Chinese rivals are encroaching upon their territory.
But it seems Israel can get away with pretty much anything with its cash cow—the US—so back in February they refused to allow the US to inspect the new Chinese-run port.
The US’s concerns, while not baseless, are somewhat amusing considering the spying assistance US companies are preparing to provide to Israel.
Amazon and Google—US companies that rival any nation in their political power—already have a $1.2 billion cloud services contract with Israel that will help the military and government surveille Palestinians and illegally collect data on them.
Forever Friends: What the Belt and Road Reveals about US-Israel Relations
From the US side, how long will the government allow the country to be permanent allies with a foreign nation? It’s the irrational elephant in the room for democrats and republicans, both of whom speak with such reverence of their “founding fathers,” with the most revered of them—George Washington—warning on departure from office:
“The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.”
Whether it’s “America First” Republicans or the “woke” Democrats like AOC, they all cower to Israel, as slave to its needs, its ruthless killing of civilians, its persistent taking of land, its growing ties to China all overlooked.
This is at a time when the US, UK, and Australia just signed the AUKUS agreement to counter China’s strength in the Indo-Pacific and when the CIA has just announced its new China Mission Center (CMC). These policy choices, particularly the opening of the CMC, are causing question as to whether a new cold war is brewing, with China as the enemy this time round. After all, as we’ve seen through the Cold War, Russiagate, and the War on Terror, it’s useful to be able to easily name an enemy.
However real, however intentionally or unintentionally imagined the US government’s concerns about China may be, the tensions on display between the two countries appear to be only increasing. One thing’s for sure: China’s economic strength, in part through ventures like the Belt and Road, is real, and a country like the US, which has enjoyed dominance in this area for some time, would of course not like this.
The Belt and Road: What it Could Mean for Palestine and Muslims
Israel is also well aware of the new connection that they and many Muslim countries will have because of the Belt and Road Initiative. Here’s what the director of the Israel-based Chinese Media Center says of this:
“‘Now, because of the Belt and Road initiative, we are there with Iran and Pakistan, as well as many Muslim and Arab countries, a situation that demonstrates China’s influence in bringing countries together…That is a huge positive for Israel.’”
The UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan—all of whom are participating in the Belt and Road—have also ‘normalized’ relations with Israel, in most cases simply by making their relations with Israel public with the US playing the role as the peace-making middleman.
Add to this that the plight of the Uyghurs in China is basically being ignored by most Muslim-majority countries, and that at least one of them (the UAE) may even be complicit with it. And add to this the possible colonial-style presence the Belt and Road could also facilitate in poorer Muslim nations like the Gambia, and we have what could be a very sticky situation indeed.
All of this complicity for the sake of the hope of economic growth—where will it lead? To riches for all, or more just for those at the top and for China while important issues like Palestine are pushed further into obscurity?
The deal between China and the UAE alone is worth $3.4 billion. They have plenty of leverage to partake in higher-stakes negotiations.
It’s obvious why they don’t use the leverage they have—they simply do not care and immediate financial gain is the goal—but it’s still worth pointing out how shameful and unfortunate this is.
It’s sad that it’s a dream for all Muslim countries participating in the Belt and Road to say something like “we welcome work with China if China stops putting Uyghurs in concentration camps and does not facilitate the growth of Israel to the detriment of Palestinians.”
There would be plenty for China to lose if they did not oblige.