Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes that China’s growing influence in the Middle East could force the United States to maintain a strong presence in the region, Axios reported on Wednesday.
In March, Beijing brokered a rapprochement agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran that took Washington by surprise.
According to the Axios report, Netanyahu was asked about the deal during a recent classified briefing to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
“The Chinese involvement in the Middle East isn’t necessarily bad. It could be useful because it will compel the U.S. to stay here,” said Netanyahu, according to two Israeli sources who attended the briefing.
Netanyahu confirmed this week that he will pay his first visit to China in six years this coming fall.
The Chinese government last month invited Netanyahu to Beijing to participate in the annual meeting of the China-Israel Joint Committee on Innovation Cooperation, which has convened every year since 2014.
“This will be a normal visit and not a political signal to anybody,” a Netanyahu aide told Axios.
Earlier this week, the prime minister updated a visiting congressional delegation on his planned visit, which will be his fourth official trip to China.
The premier said that he had informed the Biden administration last month of his decision to go. He stressed to the congressmen that “security and intelligence cooperation between the U.S. and Israel is at an all-time peak, and that the U.S. will always be Israel’s most vital ally and irreplaceable ally.”
The White House has yet to extend Netanyahu an invitation to Washington, nearly seven months into his sixth term as premier. Senior Israeli political officials told the Zman Israel news site that the China visit is intended to signal to Washington that Jerusalem has other foreign policy options.
Biden administration officials have reportedly warned allies in the region that cooperating too closely with Beijing on security and technology issues could damage ties with Washington.
U.S. pressure has over the past years caused Israel to limit China’s involvement in its economy, infrastructure and tech sectors.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu reportedly told lawmakers at the same Knesset briefing that Israel could accept an emerging agreement between the United States and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program.
The premier explained that the countries were nearing a “mini-agreement, and not a nuclear agreement.”
Under the deal, Iran would reportedly promise not to enrich uranium above 60%, in return for the U.S. releasing funds and swapping prisoners.
“This is not the agreement we know—this is an agreement which we will know how to deal with,” the prime minister reportedly said, referring to the 2015 nuclear pact between Tehran and world powers opposed by Israel and abandoned by U.S. President Donald Trump in 2018.
“Our position is clear: No agreement with Iran will be binding on Israel, which will continue to do everything to defend itself,” Netanyahu added.
The premier also reportedly told the Knesset panel that the Palestinian Authority “could not be allowed” to collapse, but that Palestinians’ desire for an independent state “must be cut off.”