US Navy threatens to pull out of Haifa port over Chinese control

American defense officials are concerned about the Shanghai International Port Group running the Port of Haifa, which could lead to the U.S. Navy ceasing to use the Israeli harbor.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The security cabinet has begun a “review” of the 2015 decision to award the operation of the port of Haifa to a state-owned Chinese company as of 2021, The Jerusalem Post reported Sunday.

According to the report, American defense officials have been airing concerns to their Israeli counterparts that having the Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG) run the port may lead to the US Navy ceasing to use the Israeli harbor when the company takes over in 2021.

Reasons cited include the dangers of Chinese operatives spying electronically and physically on the military as well as of maintenance personnel having access to equipment brought to the warships.

It is unclear what a review could accomplish three years after Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and the Ports Authority consented to the deal with SIPG, which was the only bidder for the project. SIPG has reportedly already committed $2 billion to turning the port’s bay into the biggest one in the country while running it until 2046.

Discussions will likely take place about putting additional safeguards in place, especially since the security of the nearby naval base that contains Israel’s submarine fleet is at stake as well.

In August, the Research Center for Maritime Policy and Strategy at the University of Haifa held a conference on security issues affecting the Mediterranean region in general and Israel’s water borders in particular. Prof. Shaul Horev, head of the Center and former deputy commander of the navy, raised “Israel’s need to establish a mechanism to examine whether a Chinese investment would endanger security interests,” giving the Haifa Port deal as the prime example.

According to a follow-up report in Ha’aretz, the 2015 decision was made “with zero involvement of the National Security Council and without the Navy being in the picture at all.” Moreover, he said, “The Americans who were at the conference think Israel lost its mind when it gave the Chinese the keys to Haifa Port.”

China Harbor, another Chinese company, won the tender in 2014 to construct a new port at Ashdod over a period of seven years at a cost of about $1 billion.