By Roie Yellinek
June 5, 2020
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently made a swift visit to Israel—his first trip overseas since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Although Iran and the application of Israeli law over parts of the West Bank were discussed, his priority was to pressure Israel to limit its economic ties to China. Two weeks later, it was announced that Hutchison Whampoa, a Chinese company, had not won the construction tender for a major Israeli desalination plant. Israel has little choice but to accede to American wishes in such matters, but it should not give up its relations with China entirely.
On May 13, 2020, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo landed in Israel for an eight-hour visit. His trip attracted a lot of attention, not only because it was so brief but because it occurred in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, when diplomatic travel has all but ground to a halt.
Why did Pompeo make the trip in the midst of the pandemic? To send a message to Israel about China, with which the US is vying for hegemony. The People’s Republic was not Pompeo’s only topic for discussion with the Israeli PM— application of Israeli law over parts of the West Bank and Iran were also on the agenda—but his main focus was China.
The clash between China and the US has been rising ever since Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign, during which he claimed that the Chinese were stealing jobs from the American people. Upon Trump’s ascent to the presidency, those tensions increased with the trade war. They have since reached a new high during the global coronavirus crisis, which began in China. Recently, Trump and Pompeo have stepped up their claims that China is responsible for the virus that has paralyzed the US economy and resulted in historic levels of unemployment and more than 100,000 US deaths. Trump is trying to paint China as a clear opponent ahead of the November presidential election, which will probably have a lot to do with coronavirus.
The spokesman of the Chinese Embassy in Israel published a harsh response to Pompeo’s visit, rejecting the American attempts to criticize Beijing’s conduct, both in the context of coronavirus and in terms of its developing relations with Israel. He claimed that Chinese-Israeli cooperation benefitted both parties and urged China’s “Jewish friends” to defeat “the ‘political virus’” along with coronavirus and “choose the course of action that best serves their interests”.