Thursday, July 05, 2012
Israel And China Sign Major Strategic Agreement
I've mentioned before that as the Obama Administration has distanced itself from Israel, the Jewish State has been seeking new friends elsewhere.
Once country Israel has had increasingly cordial relations with is China. Business ties are extensive, culturally there is a good deal of affinity and China is a country without historic anti-semitism.
The two countries just signed an historic cooperation agreement that amounts to strategic insurance for Israel. It involves a joint venture to build a number of multi-billion dollar projects, including a major rail line from the Israeli Mediterranean ports of Ashkelon and Haifa to the Israeli Red Sea port of Eilat, along with an inland canal port north of Eilat.
The project will allow commercial shipping to detour around the Suez canal from the Mediterranean Sea to major sea lanes in the Indian Ocean and to ports of call in eastern Africa and southern Asia..including China:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared the Eilat railway a national priority project, because of its strategic and policy importance. Israeli sources told "Globes" that the Chinese also consider the project to be important, as it fits in with China's global strategy to strengthen critical trade routes. The 180-kilometer line will run through the Arava Valley and Nahal Zinn. Netanyahu wants to cut travel time between Tel Aviv and Eilat to two hours.
It will be a major trade boost as cargoes from Asia will be able to dock in Eilat's state of the art port facilities and ship container cargo via the rail link directly to the Mediterranean and Europe and vice versa, eliminating time and expense and the uncertainties of dealing with a Muslim Brotherhood owned Suez Canal. And the railway will be a huge engine for increased development of Israel's Negev.
For the Israelis, aside from the obvious economic benefits, the strategic value is incalculable. The Suez Canal is taken out of the equation if Egypt decides to ignore international law again and stop Israeli ships from using the international waterway. It also might give the Egyptians pause if they decide to renege on the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt that declared that the Straits of Tiran, the vital waterway between the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea were international waters open to international shipping. Nasser's blockading of the Straits was one of the direct causes of the Six Day War.
The Chinese have proposed financing part of the cost through the government-owned China Development Industrial Bank, while Israel will handle the project's operations. Chinese companies are expected to receive much of the construction contracts involved.
The Chinese, of course, also have their eye on the major finds of oil and natural gas recently discovered in Israel. As I also predicted previously, Israel's becoming an energy exporter is going to change the geopolitical facts on the ground for Israel fairly rapidly.
Israeli Minister of Transport Yisrael Katz and China's Minister of Transport Li Shenglin signed the memorandum of understanding in Beijing, followed by a banquet in the Israeli delegation's honor. The Chinese took special care to ensure that the food at the banquet was kosher.
That's a marked contrast to the way President Obama treated Israeli PM Netanyahu in Washington.