OpinionMiddle East

A cautionary tale: Marriage between the Persian lion and the Chinese dragon

Iran and China are sworn enemies of the United States, and neither can be trusted when it comes to Israel’s national security interests.

Chinese President Xi Jinping with Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 2016. Photo: Official Khamenei website via Wikimedia Commons.
Chinese President Xi Jinping with Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 2016. Photo: Official Khamenei website via Wikimedia Commons.
Sarah N. Stern
Sarah N. Stern
Sarah N. Stern is the founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a think tank that specializes in the Middle East. She is the author of Saudi Arabia and the Global Terrorist Network (2011).  

The Chinese dragon and the Iranian lion have merged together in a pact that might forever alter the balance of power in the Middle East. China, with a population of 1.393 billion people and a landmass of 3.705 million square miles, is merging with Iran, with a population of approximately 84 million people and a landmass of 636,000 square miles. This would pose a significant threat to the stability of the region and the entire world.

Iran has been cash-starved by the U.S.-led sanctions, and China sees this as a way of getting heavily discounted oil from the current Iranian surplus and access into the vast Persian territory for China’s hegemonic “Belt and Road” initiative. They will be participating in joint military exercises, intelligence-sharing and research-and-development of weaponry.

Both are sworn enemies of the United States, and neither can be trusted when it comes to Israel’s national security interests.

On Friday, in his Eid al-Adha address, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reiterated that  “our main enemy is the U.S. and their regime.”

He reveled over our current economic problems, racial issues and difficulties in containing the coronavirus pandemic, gloating over the notion that “currently, the American people are the greatest enemy to the U.S. regime.”

U.S.-Chinese relations have reached an all-time low. Last Monday, the American flag was lowered in front of the Chinese consulate in Chengdu, and all American personnel vacated the premises. Many see this as a response to the closing of the Chinese consulate in Houston because of China’s deep involvement in economic and political espionage, as well as its blatant disregard for intellectual property rights.

Of course, the Islamic Republic of Iran has never wavered from its manifest, unswerving hostility to what they refer to as “the Zionist entity” and its ultimate desire to “wipe it off the map.” According to David Albright, founder and president of the Institute for Science and International Security, Iran was simply two to three months away from nuclear breakout until a series of mysterious fires, explosions and “accidents” set them back perhaps one to two years.

China may not have those fatal aspirations when it comes to Israel, and unlike most of Europe, it lacks a long and extensive history of anti-Semitism. Ever since its inception in 1948, Israel has been desperate for friends, allies and trading partners, like the kid on the block that no one wants on its team.

The United States has demonstrated, particularly under the present administration, an unparalleled devotion to Israel. There has been many an occasion when Israel has relied upon the American veto in the U.N. Security Council to prevent scathing resolutions and sanctions from being issued against it.

However, Israel risks damaging its relationship with the United States—what has long been its most reliable partner in the community of nations by entering into extensive trade agreements with China. The United States is now carefully re-evaluating its relationship with China, and many analysts have gone so far as to say that we are now entering into a Cold War that runs the risk at any point of turning hot.

China under President Xi Jinping has expanded its sphere of influence into the South China Sea to India, across Central Asia and into Europe. It feels a sense of righteous indignation over the rise of the United States and that it must make up for what it calls “centuries of humiliation.” In 2017, Xi said that they are entering “a long hard road” against United States. Their “Belt and Road” initiative plans to link 60 nations in its hegemonic quest throughout Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

As authoritarian countries tend to do, China feels that it has successfully “controlled” the COVID-19 pandemic, and is trying to take advantage of the crisis to demonstrate their prowess vis-à-vis the United States in medicine, economics and outright world domination.

Chinese intellectual property theft has cost the United States an estimated $225 billion and approximately $600 billion in counterfeited goods. According to a recent report, one in five U.S. companies recount having had intellectual property stolen by the Chinese.

It is therefore with great trepidation that I read of the reports of increasing Chinese involvement in Israel’s infrastructure. With friends like this, who is to say that Israel’s national security secrets will not be immediately turned over to the Iranians?

Among other agreements is one for the Shanghai International Port Group to take control of the Haifa Port for a period of 25 years. The U.S. Sixth fleet docks there. It is also Israel’s largest container terminal. This not only compromises Israel’s national security interests but those of the United States.

The Chinese Harbor Engineering Groups had previously participated in the construction in the port of Ashdod, and the Chinese Railway Tunnel Group won the lucrative $3 billion contract to dig the tunnels for Tel Aviv Red Line.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Israel in May, expressly to warn it about getting deeply entangled with China. The United States is also rightfully concerned about Chinese investment into Israel’s cutting-edge cyber-security and satellite telecommunications artificial-intelligence industries with their “intellectual property” philosophy of “once I understand it, I own it.”

Beijing’s “Belt and Road” initiative is a multibillion-dollar strategy to delve deep into and steal the economic cyber, intelligence and military secrets of any company or country it develops relations with.

Now that China and Iran have entered into this partnership, not only do further commercial interests with China threaten to rock Israel’s critically important relationship with the United States, but they threaten to pose a tremendous security risk to Israel.

It’s about time that Israel stops behaving like the kid on the block who is desperate for friends. Most of the Sunni Arab nations and Israel have been developing close relations, thanks to the Iranian menace, albeit many of them are still “under the table.” Israel’s desperation to widen its scope of friendship should not cloud up its realistic perception of the dangers of dealing with the Chinese dragon. One should hope that Israel promptly sets its gears into “reverse” and gets out of these perilous deals with the People’s Republic of China before the dragon bites Israel in the backside, and it is devoured by the Persian lion.

Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington, D.C.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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