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Pompeo in Israel on a mission to counter China

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo touched down in Israel on Wednesday to discuss several well-worn issues in the strong US-Israel bilateral relationship, from the peace process to relations with Iran.

But it was one less-reported issue that provided the underlying reason for the trip: China. The US security establishment has long been concerned with the depth and breadth of cooperation between Israel and China.

It is an election year in the US, and one during which the Donald Trump administration has come under major scrutiny for its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In context of the openly rancorous tensions between Beijing and Washington over the origins of Covid-19, the Chinese issue is set to become a contentious thread in the tapestry of US-Israeli relations.

No US veto

Israel is now in negotiations with Beijing to sign a far-reaching free trade agreement. These talks, delayed for more than a year by the lack of a functioning government in Israel, are now back on track.

The prospect of such a treaty with China is “too important to allow the US a veto,” a representative of the Israeli Ministry of Finance told Asia Times on condition of anonymity.

Such an agreement will serve to lessen Israeli reliance on its major trade partner, the European Union, with which it has politically uncomfortable relations.

Key European states are now considering sanctions on Israel, should it proceed with unilateral annexation plans in the occupied West Bank. On Friday, EU leaders will meet in Brussels to discuss possible measures, including the exclusion of Israel from certain trade agreements.

Speaking of the importance of China, the Israeli foreign ministry official noted that “other countries have enjoyed a 15% increase in bilateral trade, significant expanse of trade and even a boost to the macro health of the economy.”

US politics in play

Pompeo’s visit also comes against the backdrop of a massive outbreak of Covid-19 in the US, which will soon tally a million and a half cases with more than 80,000 recorded fatalities.

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