Pompeo warns Israel: Get too close to China and intel cooperation will suffer

Call this the other side of the Golan Heights. Mike Pompeo delivered a rare get-tough public moment from the Trump administration to Israel yesterday, just three weeks ahead of its elections. Israeli journalist Barak Ravid covered a number of topics with the Secretary of State on his visit to Jerusalem, including whether Pompeo worries that the visit and Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit next week to the White House might be construed as interference in the election.

If that was the case, though, Pompeo might have waited to tell Israel that it’s risking its security relationship with the US by playing footsie with Beijing:

Nevertheless, Pompeo cautioned that unless Israel re-evaluates its cooperation with China, it could see the US reduce “intelligence sharing and co-location of security facilities.” …

However, he warned that China also posed risks, using “debt as a trap” and “engages in spying through its commercial state-owned enterprises and presents risk through its technology systems, companies like Huawei,” Pompeo said, adding that these “present real risks to the people of Israel.

“We want to make sure every country is wide-eyed and awake with regard to the policy threats posed by China,” he said. “America will have to make decisions too. If certain systems go in certain places then America’s efforts to work alongside you will be more difficult, and in some places we wont be able to do so.

“Intelligence sharing might have to be reduced, co-location of security facilities might have to be reduced, we want to make sure countries understand this and know the risks,” he said.

As the Times of Israel notes, it’s not the first such message coming from the US to Israel about China. Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette brought it up during a visit in January. John Bolton brought it up in a private meeting with Israeli officials earlier this year too, specifically warning about Huawei and ZTE. That last part is significant, since it was the Trump administration that cut a deal to help China salvage ZTE almost a year ago. We certainly had our chance to curtail ZTE’s influence and took a pass on it. Does the White House have a case of bailout remorse now?

This public warning ratchets up the stakes. It’s the highest-level rebuke yet from the Trump administration, and it comes just before Israeli voters go to the polls to choose their next leader. Pompeo looked as though he was about to jump out of his chair when Ravid brought up China; Pompeo suddenly became much more engaged than he had been on previous questions and clearly wanted to make sure no one missed his meaning.

And it’s not just Huawei and ZTE, either. The US is getting very nervous about Israeli outsourcing of management of its ports to China:

Several analysts and officials have expressed great concern over the deal that would put the Shanghai International Port Group in charge of Haifa port’s container terminal starting in 2021.

Allowing Beijing a foothold in so strategically important a location, close to an Israeli naval base, they fear, could compromise Israeli intelligence assets and even lead US military vessels to avoid docking at Haifa altogether.

Will that message make an impact? Netanyahu had better be prepared to get an earful of it next week.