The United States argues that Chinese companies will use their involvement in building 5G networks for espionage or possibly sabotage of communications infrastructure.
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman chose Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel as the first minister in the new government with whom he held a meeting.
The unusual choice of a lower-level minister from Derech Eretz, a faction with only two seats, for Tuesday’s meeting was likely due to US efforts to warn allies against using Chinese companies to build their 5G internet networks.
Sources in Derech Eretz confirmed that the matter of 5G and Chinese technological investments in Israel came up in the meeting.
Friedman invited Hendel to Washington to meet with government officials in his field and deepen cooperation between the countries on communication technologies.
The US has argued that Chinese companies will use their involvement in building 5G networks for espionage or possibly sabotage of communications infrastructure. US Attorney-General William Barr said earlier this year that Chinese dominance in this sphere would be a “monumental danger” because of its use for spying, and that America’s “economic future is at stake.”
The meeting with Hendel and Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Zvi Hauser, also of Derech Eretz, came on the same day that Israel chose local company IDE technologies to construct the world’s largest desalination plant, rather than a Chinese company, thus preventing another undesirable showdown with the Trump administration over Chinese participation in major infrastructure projects.
The US has asked its allies, including Israel, in recent weeks to sever ties with China – Israel’s third-largest trading partner – in areas with security risks, a US official with knowledge of talks on the matter said last week.
The Trump administration specifically flagged Hutchison’s possible involvement in the construction of the desalination plant, which will be in Kibbutz Palmachim and cost more than NIS 5 billion. In addition to being an important infrastructure project for Israel, the plant is near the Sorek Nuclear Center and the Palmachim airbase.
The US concern about Chinese companies’ involvement in major infrastructure projects in Israel in recent years, is due partly to the ability of Chinese operatives to gather intelligence while working on them, as well as the massive economic, social and environmental losses, and even casualties, that could be inflicted if that infrastructure is damaged.
The official statement from the Finance Ministry, Energy Ministry and Water Resources Ministry does not mention Hutchison or China and simply states that Kadima-headquartered IDE Technologies, which partnered with Bank Leumi, submitted the winning PPP bid, promising desalinated water at the cost of approximately NIS 1.45 per cubic meter (cu.m.) – some 65 agorot cheaper than all desalination solutions today.