“The Americans are speaking to us about this very politely but it is clear they would like us to review the Chinese participation,” an Israeli official said.
By Josh Plank, World Israel News
The Ministry of Finance announced Tuesday that Israel’s IDE Technologies has won the bid to build Sorek B, the world’s largest water desalination plant, beating out China-based rival Hutchison Water.
The announcement comes amid mounting U.S.-China tensions and less than two weeks after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and reportedly expressed U.S. concern over Chinese involvement in Israeli infrastructure projects.
The $1.5 billion Sorek B project is expected to produce 200 million cubic meters of water per year, increasing Israel’s desalination capacity by 35 percent. It will be located near Palmachim Airbase and the Soreq Nuclear Research Center.
In early May, Axios reported that several Trump administration officials including Ambassador David Friedman raised their concerns over China’s possible involvement in the project.
“The Americans are speaking to us about this very politely but it is clear they would like us to review the Chinese participation in the [bid],” an Israeli official said.
A U.S. Embassy official told Axios, “We are not going to comment on specific projects but, as with all of our allies and friends around the world, we remain engaged in dialogue with Israel about the best way to review potential foreign investment and economic activities with a view on their impact on national security.”
On October 30, 2019, in response to mounting U.S. pressure, the Israeli Security Cabinet announced the establishment of an advisory committee to evaluate the national security aspects of approving foreign investments. However, since the Sorek B bid was issued a year earlier, it did not immediately come under the review of the committee.
How much influence the U.S. may have had on the selection of IDE over China’s Hutchison is unknown.
According to the Finance Ministry, IDE’s bid promises an “unprecedented price” for desalinated water at approximately 1.45 shekels per cubic meter, which is more than 30 percent cheaper than current desalination solutions, saving some 3.3 billion shekels over the period of the facility’s operations.
Accountant General Roni Hezekiah said, “I congratulate the committee for conducting a very fast and professional tender process, which has directly contributed to this wonderful result, of which the main beneficiaries are expected to be Israeli citizens.”