Analysis / Is US Focus on China Hurting Israel’s Security?

Israel fears low US interest in Iran (Photo: IDF/CC)

As the US shifts its strategic focus to China, Israel could face troubling implications for its own national security.

The CIA just announced the opening of a new office dedicated to China. In parallel, the spy agency’s interest in fighting terror is declining after years of huge investments in this area.

The latest move is yet another signal of changing US priorities, and the declining importance of the Middle East in American eyes. This shift is already impacting Israel in potentially dangerous ways.

The US emphasis on China comes at the expense of stronger action on the Iran front, a senior Israeli defense official warned recently. The Americans seem unconcerned about the Iranian nuclear threat and have no Plan B for dealing with it, he told the Al-Monitor website. The US is clearly focused on China, not on Iran, he said.

Israel recently asked for a US show of force against Iran, such as a huge military drill in the Persian Gulf, the defense source revealed. However, American officials are “not on board,” he said.

The US is also reluctant to provide Israel with advanced weapons needed for a strike on Iran’s nuclear sites, a recent report noted. This hesitancy could expand to other areas as the US chooses to invest more attention and resources in East Asia.

Little US interest in Iran

Ex-Israeli diplomat Alon Pinkas describes a similar picture of US apathy on Iran, as China concerns take over. In a trip to Washington this year, he spoke with Congress members and senators who showed little interest in Iran and the Palestinians. The China issue and Israel’s ties with Beijing dominated every meeting, he wrote in Haaretz daily.

In parallel, the growing rivalry with China is prompting America to take a harder line on Israeli-Chinese cooperation. While Israel is clearly in the US camp, officials in Jerusalem will have to maneuver carefully to avoid risky friction with both superpowers.

While the trend troubles Israel, there is some potential for positive news. As China and Iran move closer, the US may eventually adopt a harsher view against Tehran as part of a policy to limit Chinese influence. Notably, earlier this year China and Iran announced a major deal to boost their partnership. Yet it remains to be seen if this will be translated into real action that alarms America.

Meanwhile, an increased US focus on China may offer Israel more freedom on other fronts of declining interest. Yediot Aharonot daily reported that Israel may soon build more homes on the Golan Heights to further entrench its control of the area, while the US is preoccupied elsewhere. Little objection is expected from Washington at this time, the report said.