4 June 2020 - 13 Sivan 5780 - י"ג סיון ה' אלפים תש"פ
US Navy says Haifa port arrangements may change with new management from China E-mail

The US Navy has acknowledged that its longstanding operations in Haifa, Israel’s largest port, may change once a Chinese firm takes over the civilian port in 2021, prompting Israel’s national security cabinet to revisit the arrangement, The Jerusalem Post has reported.

Haifa regularly hosts joint US-Israeli naval drills and visits from American vessels. However, 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 US$2 billion to the project and, according to state-run media, plans to transform the port’s bay terminal into the largest harbour in the country.

A representative of the Sixth Fleet said the navy’s partnership with Israel remains “steadfast”. “Our US Navy ships frequently visit Haifa, Israel, for both USIsrael bilateral military activity and port calls,” Commander Kyle Raines told the Post, when asked whether China’s coming presence might affect fleet operations in the Mediterranean city.

“For now, there are no changes to our operations in Israel,” the commander continued. “I can’t speculate on what might or might not occur in 2021.” Three sources familiar with the matter said that due to concerns that US defence officials shared privately 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 were not 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,” the source said.

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