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US pressures Israel to counter China espionage, amid increasing concerns

This picture shows countainer and cranes on the dock of Haifa port, on 24 June 2021 [EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images]
This picture shows container and cranes on the dock of Haifa port, on 24 June 2021 [EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images]

American officials are reportedly pressuring Israel to counter potential Chinese espionage regarding the Chinese-built port in the coastal city of Haifa, defence sources have revealed.

According to the site Breaking Defence, Israeli defence sources told it that US officials requested their Israeli counterparts to conduct regular inspections of heavy equipment arriving at the Haifa Bayport terminal, which was built with a $1.7 billion investment by China.

Due to the fact that 25-year contract for the port enables China's state-owned Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG) to manage the site, the US is reportedly concerned that Beijing could use the port as a gateway to perform espionage within Israel and its naval activities.

Those concerns, according to the sources, are also partly shared by the Israeli government due to the fact that the Israeli navy has its largest base next to the port and the US navy also passes and conducts activities in Haifa often.

According to the site, researchers from the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) acknowledged that, while the Israeli naval base is at the same distance from the port as other surrounding buildings, its specific location could make it possible for intelligence-gathering activities to be performed there.

The eight cranes in the port reportedly make it even more possible, especially seeing as they are also produced by a Chinese company.

READ: Israel's growing links with China concern Washington

Responding to the revelations published by the site, a US State Department spokesperson told it that US officials "are engaging with allies and partners worldwide, including with Israel, as they develop national security-focused investment screening systems."

The spokesperson added that "We have been candid with our Israeli friends over risks to our shared national security interests and will continue these discussions in the appropriate venues."

While not directly responding to the US's pressure, the Israeli sources cited by Breaking Defence assured it that Tel Aviv's navy would be taking some "operational steps" to secure both its underwater and surface facilities from "suspected foreign eyes and ears."

Washington's pressuring of Tel Aviv comes at a time when it is concerned with Israel's growing ties with China, which the US sees as a rival on the world stage. In August, those fears were expressed when the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) warned Israeli Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, of the dangers of Chinese investment into the country.

Amid Beijing's string of contracts throughout the world—especially at ports—there have been warnings that the rising power could use methods such as economic assistance to lure client countries into "debt traps," which force them to give China control over sites and facilities as a way of repaying debt.

With regards to Chinese espionage, however, the international cyber security firm, Fire Eye, revealed in August that Chinese hackers had successfully hacked computers belonging to the Israeli government and tech companies in the years 2019 and 2020.

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