Chinese Investments in Israel Could Pose Security Threat, Shin Bet Chief Warns

Nadav Argaman says Israel needs legislation to supervise Chinese involvement in country's projects ■ State Looking into tighter control over foreign investment following U.S. pressure

Shin Bet Chief Nadav Argaman at the Knesset, Jerusalem, November 6, 2018.
Emil Salman

Shin Bet security service chief Nadav Argaman warned that Chinese investments in Israel could put state security at risk, Channel 10 News reported on Wednesday.

According to the report, during a speech at Tel Aviv University Argaman said legislation was needed so these investments could be supervised, citing Chinese interests in infrastructure projects like the Haifa Port and the Dan Region light rail, and their involvement in large Israeli companies.

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Haaretz recently reported that the security cabinet has held a special discussion on the ramifications of China’s involvement in infrastructure projects, and that the government has begun to consider legislation to tighten supervision on foreign investment.

This is in response to increasing pressure from the United States, which has expressed concern about Israel’s trade and technology ties with China. During his visit to Israel, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton discussed the entry of China's telecommunications companies, Huwaei and ZTE, into the Israeli market.

Israeli concern about China’s penetration has been expressed by, for example, blocking a proposal by a Chinese firm to buy the Phoenix insurance company, a decision Argaman was involved in. The security forces have recommended that employees not buy Chinese cell phones and at times have forbidden them to do so for fear Beijing might use the phones for espionage.

The Trump administration sees China as a rival and even as a strategic threat, and has been pressing Israel to “choose sides,” reminding the Israelis of the financial assistance from Washington and the ties between the two countries’ defense industries.

Senior Pentagon officials have warned that China’s involvement in Haifa Port might make it difficult to continue the cooperation between Israel and the U.S. Navy.  

Israeli officials who recently discussed the issue with their American counterparts said, “They blew up at us,” and that the message conveyed during those talks was, “Either you make order with regard to trade with China, or we’ll have to.”