WASHINGTON, DC- The US Navy has acknowledged that its longstanding operations in Haifa may change once a Chinese firm takes over the civilian port in 2021, prompting Israel’s national security cabinet to revisit the arrangement, according to a report by The Jerusalem Post .
Haifa, Israel’s largest port city, regularly hosts joint US-Israeli naval drills and visits from American vessels. But a 2015 agreement between Israel’s Transportation Ministry and Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG) – a company in which the Chinese government has a majority stake – has raised intelligence and security concerns that are only now prompting an interagency review.
That agreement granted SIPG control over the port for 25 years. The Chinese company has committed $2 billion to the project and, according to state-run media, plans to transform the port’s bay terminal into the largest harbor in the country.
Sources familiar with the issue said that due to concerns that US defense officials privately shared with their Israeli counterparts, the Israeli government has launched “a review of the agreement at a high level,” specifically among members of the inner cabinet.
According to one source, several members expressed worry that sensitive infrastructure matters have not been properly vetted by Israel’s full national security cabinet prior to approval.
“You don’t want a decision that was made ostensibly for business reasons to have an impact on Israel’s relationship with the American navy,” a source said.
The deal was signed off by Israel Katz, who was serving as transportation minister at the time and has remained in the position since. He occupies a seat in the national security cabinet.
A senior IDF officer confirmed that the review is under way. But it is unclear whether Israel has any recourse to allay US concerns with the China project, which is already sealed and in motion.
Retired Israeli and American defense and intelligence officials raised concerns throughout the summer that Chinese management of the port might jeopardize America’s operations there.
The former head of Israel’s Mossad, Efraim Halevy, sounded an alarm in recent months over the security implications of China’s creeping presence across Israel’s critical infrastructure. And retired admiral Gary Roughead, ex-chief of US naval operations, warned that a Chinese-run seaport in the bay could force the navy to dock its warships elsewhere.
“The Chinese port operators will be able to monitor closely US 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 remarked 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 US information and cybersecurity,” he added.
The Prime Minister’s Office, Transportation Ministry and Foreign Ministry declined requests for comment on this report.