America, Israel, and China

Rafi Unger

A serious rift in the American-Israel relationship could occur due to Israel’s relationship with China. America stands for individual rights and democracy. China stands for the opposite. China is ruled by a dictator who has no regard for the individual rights of China’s citizens, which has led to a poor relationship between China and America. Due to the fraught relations between these two nations, it may soon be impossible for one country to be in a significant relationship with both at the same time. However, Israel has a relationship with both countries. And so, Israel is at the center of a house of cards that could come crashing down at any minute.

China is Israel’s biggest trade partner in Asia. In the 1980s, Israel sold China technology to upgrade their tanks. China used this technology to mount an Israeli 105-mm cannon atop a renovated tank. Over the past thirty years, trade between China and Israel has greatly benefited each nation to the tune of billions of dollars. However, due to pressure from both the Biden and Trump administrations, Israel’s security cabinet announced the creation of an advisory panel on foreign investments, which has slowed down trade and other economically advantageous projects, such as the Tel Aviv Light Rail, that have connections to China. Israel, however, hopes to keep the economic benefits from its relationship with China going for as long as possible before it is forced to make a choice: does Israel value its American or Chinese relationship more?

Israel’s relationship with China poses a security risk to America and Israel. Chinese companies have worked on the Haifa Port, where various American naval vessels come to dock. This has led to security concerns for the Americans, as they worry China could be gathering intelligence information about the U.S. through the Haifa Port. Even Israel is becoming worried about the Chinese presence because China is involved in strategic infrastructure projects in Israel. Due to the intelligence risk that China poses within
Israel, America could be forced to limit its relationship with Israel, even if it otherwise does not want to.

Israel is America’s staunch ally in the Middle East, and the two are connected by much more than just shared security threats. America helps fund Israeli defense programs, such as the Iron Dome, and affirms Israel’s right to exist as a democracy and Jewish state. Inarguably, Israel should consider its security- (and values-) based relationship with the U.S. as more important than its economic relationship with China. However, so far, Israel has not had to, nor seemed to want to, choose the Americans over the Chinese, because, to this day, there is significant trade in strategic sectors occurring between Israel and China. Israel does not want to miss out on billions of dollars of potential trade with China.

Israel’s continued relationship with China could have far-reaching consequences. It could make it hard for America to feel as if it can truly trust Israel if they are so economically involved with a rival and adversarial country. Furthermore, solely from a values perspective, Israel’s relationship with China, an oppressive country, would give more fodder to those who say Israel has no right to exist and has taken land rightfully belonging to Palestinians. If Israel is garnering a lot of negative publicity for its relationship with China, it could make it hard for America to justify its relationship with Israel, especially when one considers that America and China do not have a good relationship currently.

Assaf Orion, who is a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, has noted a trend in the data that depicts the Israeli and Chinese relationship. It appears that their economic involvement with each other is slowing down. This could be a manifestation of pressure from America for Israel to end its connection with China. Or perhaps, Israel can foresee the issues a relationship with China can cause in its American relationship, and is slowly trying to solve the problem before it comes to a head.

As more American strategists argue for selective decoupling from China, particularly in the high-tech realms where Israeli and Chinese ties remain, Israel will eventually be forced to decide: does it want the economic benefit of China, or the security and political support offered by America? Israel must keep in mind that its reputation can be damaged by being associated with a country like China which suppresses human rights. America has traditionally been Israel’s ally and is vital to Israel’s current existence. American Jews must be cautious about lecturing Israelis over their geopolitical choices and security concerns. However, in this case, the American Jew must weigh just how important Israel’s relationship with America is, and whether or not Israel could survive losing its American connection because of an economic partnership with China—America’s competitor and greatest adversary on the world stage.

Mr. Rafi Unger is a tenth grader at Manhattan Talmudic Academy. He resides in Riverdale, New York.

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