US pressures Israel to block Chinese 5G suppliers

U.S. Ambassador to Israel meets with communications minister, reflecting American concerns about Chinese equipment suppliers.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

The United States is stepping in to make sure Israel does not use Chinese technology in key projects as it opens up bids to upgrade its telecom infrastructure to foreign firms, Kan News reported Wednesday.

A U.S. State Department official told Kan Radio that the Trump Administration had discussed the issue of Chinese investments in Israel, reflecting American efforts to get its European and other allies to steer clear of equipment made by the Chinese company Huawei, the world’s largest supplier of communications equipment.

“We remain engaged in dialogue with Israel about the best way to review potential foreign investments and economic activities based on their impact on national security,” a State Department official told Kan Radio.

The official refused to comment on specific projects including those associated with 5G technology, but said “Israel is a superb partner to the United States, and we have full confidence in our partnership on this issue as well.”

Officials for years have expressed concerns that state-sponsored hackers could use the Chinese-made devices as back doors into strategically vital networks. Huawei is a large player in the new 5G technology for communications that will be used in future ‘smart cities,’ which interconnects anything that uses data.

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Chinese law requires its citizens and businesses to “support, assist, and co-operate with national intelligence efforts in accordance with the law.” Many western countries believe that Huawei’s equipment could be used by the Chinese government for espionage.

There are fears that hackers who gain access to 5G systems – the fifth generation of mobile broadband technology – could not just steal data, but also wreak havoc by shutting down power stations or disabling transportation networks.

On Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman held his first meeting with a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new national unity government.

However, instead of meeting with a senior member like Defense Minister Benny Gantz  or Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, he met with Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel, a member of the small Derekh Eretz faction that broke off from Gantz’s Blue and White Party.

“Why is he [Hendel] a priority? The U.S. is warning allies around the world not to work with China on 5G networks. The topic came up in the meeting,” tweeted Jerusalem Post reporter Lahav Harkov, who said the meeting shows that Israel takes American concerns seriously, but is likely to continue cooperation with China in less sensitive areas.

The pressure is a reminder of the episode in 2000 in which the U.S. stepped in to block a $250 million sale of sophisticated Israeli airborne radar equipment to China. At the time the Americans were worried about western military technology falling into Chinese hands.

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Tensions between the U.S. and China have escalated in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, with the Trump administration holding China at fault for withholding information that might have halted the global spread of the disease.