Scoop: Israel scrambles to avoid Trump blowback over Chinese investments

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo: Xinhua/Rao Ainmin via Getty Images

Officials from Israel's Foreign Ministry warned in a classified Cabinet meeting last month that if the Israeli government doesn’t create a strong monitoring mechanism on Chinese investments, it could lead to a harsh confrontation with the Trump administration, 2 ministers who attended the meeting tell me.

Why it matters: The Foreign Ministry warning, which came on July 24, led Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to postpone a vote on forming such a mechanism that was apparently too weak. Chinese investments in Israel have become the main source of tension with the Trump administration over the last 2 years.

  • President Trump and other senior U.S. officials have asked Netanyahu several times to take steps to limit Chinese investments.
  • Israeli officials say the Trump administration has started showing signs of nervousness about what it sees as foot-dragging by Netanyahu on the issue.
  • In their last meeting in March, Trump warned Netanyahu that not addressing the issue could harm defense and intelligence cooperation with the U.S., according to White House officials.
  • Those officials tell me Netanyahu told Trump he understands the sensitivities, but wants to find a balanced policy that won’t harm Israel’s relationship with China.

The latest: During a visit in late June from White House national security adviser John Bolton, Netanyahu committed to passing a decision through the Cabinet on monitoring Chinese investments before Israel's Sept. 17 elections.

  • 10 days ago, Netanyahu’s national security adviser Meir Ben Shabbat presented to the Security Cabinet a draft resolution on this issue.
  • The plan was to vote on the resolution at the end of the meeting, but the Foreign Ministry raised deep reservations. They stressed that it was too weak and wouldn't address U.S. concerns.
  • For example, the draft resolution didn’t include monitoring of Chinese investment in Israel's high-tech sector — a major source of concern for the U.S., both for economic and security reasons.

Ministers who attended the meeting tell me the Foreign Ministry recommended that any monitoring mechanism on Chinese investments be tough enough that the U.S. would feel its concerns were taken into consideration.

  • They said the alternative was to risk confrontation with the Trump administration. That warning led to a postponement of the vote.

Israel's Ministry of Finance pushed back, warning that tight regulation on Chinese investments in the tech sector could harm Israeli companies and lead them to take their business abroad.

  • Netanyahu asked his national security adviser to hold another round of interagency consultations, including with Israeli Ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer, the ministers tell me.
  • An amended text could be brought to the Cabinet as soon as Wednesday.

The other side: A White House official told me, "We hope the Israelis will take steps to address our concerns about China — including passing a resolution in the Cabinet on monitoring Chinese investments."

Additional Stories

Biden freezes U.S. arms deals with Saudi Arabia and UAE

Trump struck several large arms deals with Mohammed bin Salman (L) and Saudi Arabia. Photo: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images

The Biden administration has put on hold two big arms deals with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates which were approved in the final weeks of the Trump administration, a State Department official tells Axios.

Why it matters: The sales of F-35 jets and attack drones to the UAE and a large supply of munitions to Saudi Arabia will be paused pending a review. That signals a major policy shift from the Trump era, and may herald sharp tensions with both Gulf countries.

John Kerry: U.S.-China climate cooperation is a "critical standalone issue"

President Biden's special climate envoy John Kerry said Wednesday that the U.S. must deal with China on climate change as a "critical standalone issue," but stressed that confronting Beijing's human rights and trade abuses "will never be traded" for climate cooperation.

Why it matters: The last few years have brought about a bipartisan consensus on the threat posed by China. But as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, China will be a vital player if the world is going to come close to reining in emissions on the scale needed to meet the Paris Agreement goals of limiting warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

North Korean hackers targeted U.S. security researchers

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Suspected North Korean state hackers have been using social engineering schemes to target security researchers, according to researchers with Google’s Threat Analysis Group.

Driving the news: Using platforms "including Twitter, LinkedIn, Telegram, Discord, Keybase and email," the hackers themselves posed as threat researchers in order to build legitimate profiles and backstories.

In cyber espionage, U.S. is both hunted and hunter

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

American outrage over foreign cyber espionage, like Russia's SolarWinds hack, obscures the uncomfortable reality that the U.S. secretly does just the same thing to other countries.

Why it matters: Secrecy is often necessary in cyber spying to protect sources and methods, preserve strategic edges that may stem from purloined information, and prevent diplomatic incidents.

Scoop: Sudan wants to seal Israel normalization deal at White House

Burhan. Photo: Mazen Mahdi/AFP via Getty

Three months after Sudan agreed to normalize relations with Israel, it still hasn't signed an agreement to formally do so. Israeli officials tell me one reason has now emerged: Sudan wants to sign the deal at the White House.

Driving the news: Israel sent Sudan a draft agreement for establishing diplomatic relations several weeks ago, but the Sudanese didn’t reply, the officials say. On Tuesday, Israeli Minister of Intelligence Eli Cohen raised that issue in Khartoum during the first-ever visit of an Israeli minister to Sudan.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios
  1. Health: One year of the coronavirus — Bill and Melinda Gates warn of "immunity inequality"Communities of color are falling behind in America's vaccine effort.
  2. Vaccine: Vaccine hesitancy is decreasing in the U.S.
  3. Politics: Biden admin to boost COVID vaccine delivery to states for at least 3 weeksHundreds of Biden staffers receive COVID vaccine — Axios-Ipsos poll: Trust in federal COVID-19 response surges.
  4. Business: Bankruptcy filings hit decade-high last year.
  5. World: U.K. surpasses 100,000 COVID-19 deaths44% of Israelis have already received at least one vaccine dose.
  6. Sports: Europe's 20 richest soccer clubs report 12% revenue hit due to coronavirus — Pandemic has cost the NCAA $600 million — CDC looks at lessons learned from NFL's testing and contact tracing.

Israel's COVID crisis deepens even as the vaccination rate climbs

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish protesters clash with security forces over lockdown enforcement Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had hoped to declare victory over the pandemic before the elections on March 23, but new fast-spreading variants of COVID-19 have dashed those hopes.

Why it matters: Netanyahu's main political vulnerability is his handling of the pandemic. He has acknowledged that his poll numbers will be directly connected to the rates of vaccinations, new infections and deaths, as well as his ability to reopen the economy.

Netanyahu doesn't want a fight with Biden over Iran — yet

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Eric Baradat (AFP), Gali Tibbon (AFP)/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, hoping to avoid an immediate clash with President Biden over Iran, will give dialogue a chance, Israeli officials say.

Why it matters: Biden intends to try to resume the 2015 nuclear deal, which Netanyahu vehemently opposes. The two are on a collision course, and memories are fresh of the crisis in U.S.-Israel relations when Netanyahu was publicly campaigning against Barack Obama's attempts to reach a deal — including in a speech to Congress.

Read more at Axios
© Copyright Axios 2021