Netanyahu Had Little Choice but to Have China Lose Big Israel Bid
Israel thought it could navigate between the powers, but the coronavirus crisis has sharpened tensions, and Trump’s reelection campaign is centered on blaming China
By Amos Harel
The Finance and Energy Ministries announced Tuesday that the Israeli company IDE Technologies had won the contract to build and operate the Soreq 2 desalination plant, beating out the Hong Kong-based Hutchison Water. The huge facility, whose construction will cost an estimated $2 billion, will be erected close to the existing facility, which is near both an air base and a nuclear research facility.
As reported last year in Haaretz, the bidding was accompanied by a sharp dispute between defense officials and the Energy Ministry, as well as heavy pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump‘s administration. The objections stemmed from the fact that Hutchison is a Chinese-controlled company, with Nir Ben-Moshe, director of the Defense Ministry Security Authority, expressing extra concern because of the new plant’s proximity to security installations.
There was also increasing U.S. pressure, which apparently came to a head during Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit two weeks ago. Amid mutual recriminations between Washington and Beijing regarding the spread of the coronavirus and the increasing rivalry between the two countries, the U.S. is asking its friends to avoid signing huge infrastructure contracts with Chinese firms. What exactly Pompeo said to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the matter is not known. One can also assume that the tenders committee had enough good reasons to prefer the Israeli contender over the Chinese competitor.