Haifa, Israel (PortSEurope) May 12, 2020 – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will make a brief visit to Israel tomorrow to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Speaker of Knesset Benny Gantz. Despite the Iran and Covid-19 coronavirus crises, and the U.S. government being largely subject to a travel ban, the visit suggests urgent issues that require in-person discussions. The U.S. state department said the
purpose is to “discuss U.S. and Israeli efforts to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as regional security issues related to Iran’s malign influence”. Another issue is likely to be the increasing activities of state-owned Chinese companies in Israeli industries. Al-Monitor reported that Pompeo is expected to warn Israel against China’s Hutchison Water International bid to win a contract to construct the largest seawater desalination plant in the world, the Sorek A desalination plant, south of Tel Aviv. Chinese companies are also involved in constructing the new port facilities in Ashdod and Haifa. In 2015, it was announced that China’s state-owned Shanghai International Ports Group (SIPG) was awarded the concession of Bayport terminal, port of Haifa, for 25 years from 2021. Bayport terminal is expected to be in full operation in 2021. SIPG is a global terminal operator, the exclusive operator of all the public terminals in the Port of Shanghai and provides cargo handling, port logistics, port commerce, pilotage, tugboat, shipping tally, and other port related services. Also, Pan Mediterranean Engineering Company (PMEC), part of China Harbor Engineering Company Ltd, won in February a tender to upgrade Ashdod’s main dock for NIS 1 billion (€270.3 million). A presence in the Mediterranean, together with assets owned and managed by China’s COSCO Ports Shipping and China Merchants Group, would expand Chinese activities in the region, close to the Suez Canal. Together with Haifa port that could form part of a transport corridor with Middle East countries. This fits into Beijing’s “One Belt and One Road/new Silk Road” strategy. Washington has concerns with the SIPG development and does not want to see a new Chinese business with the latest technology at a port where the U.S. Sixth Fleet is a regular visitor. Also, Washington is concerned that China will use the harbour to improve its standing in the Middle East and potentially gather intelligence on U.S. interests. Considering these facts, it is difficult to see a visit to Israel by a top U.S. government official passing by without the China-Israel relationship being a top discussion point. Copyright (C) PortSEurope. All Rights Reserved. 2020.