Chinese deal may change U.S. Navy ops at Israel’s port in Haifa

by WorldTribune Staff, December 17, 2018

A Chinese company with close ties to the communist government will assume control of the civilian port in Israel’s largest port city in 2021.

The move has prompted the U.S. to reconsider its joint military operations with Israel at the port and leading Israel’s national security cabinet to revisit the $2 billion port deal, a report said.

The USS Porter arrives at Haifa port for a visit in July 2015. / U.S. Navy photo

The 2015 agreement between Israel’s Transportation Ministry and Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG) in which SIPG will be granted control over the port in Haifa for 25 years, has led to an interagency review, The Jerusalem Post reported on Dec. 15.

The Chinese government has a majority stake in SIPG.

Three sources familiar with the matter told the Jerusalem Post that U.S. defense officials privately shared their concerns over the deal with their Israeli counterparts. The sources said the Israeli government has launched “a review of the agreement at a high level,” specifically among members of the inner cabinet.

Commander Kyle Raines of the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet told the Jerusalem Post that “For now, there are no changes to our operations in Israel. I can’t speculate on what might or might not occur in 2021.”

The U.S. and Israeli navies regularly conduct joint drills at Haifa.

Retired Adm. Gary Roughead, ex-chief of U.S. naval operations, warned that a Chinese-run seaport in Israel could force the navy to dock its warships elsewhere.

“The Chinese port operators will be able to monitor closely U.S. 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,” Roughead said during a conference last month at the University of Haifa.

“Significantly, the information systems and new infrastructure integral to the ports and the likelihood of information and electronic surveillance systems jeopardize U.S. information and cybersecurity,” he added.

SIPG has committed $2 billion to the project and plans to transform the port’s bay terminal into the largest harbor in Israel, Chinese state-run media reported.

Israel has its own security concerns in Haifa to consider, the Jerusalem Post report said.

“The seaport in question is not far from an Israeli navy base where the country maintains its fleet of submarines, which foreign press has reported are capable of carrying and launching nuclear missiles. Domestic critics say that China’s shipping operations in close proximity to the fleet amount to an unacceptable security risk,” the report said.

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