FRESH AIR

China won’t and can’t help Israel with Iran

Apr 28, 2023 | Oved Lobel

China Iran

On April 17, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen held a call with his Chinese counterpart, in which he “called on him to exert his influence on Iran to stop the progress of the nuclear program.” In this plea are disturbing echoes of the mistake Israel made with Russia when it came to Iran.

China, like Russia, has very little interest in altering Iranian behaviour. Although China’s relationship with Iran is not yet as qualitatively deep and long-standing as Iran’s alliance with Russia, it is still part of a dangerous tripartite axis aiming to undermine the US and its allies and overturn the international order.

One of the key reasons for the failure of the so-called “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign against the Iranian regime following the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 is that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) kept the Iranian regime afloat via oil purchases. Beyond oil purchases, the CCP also signed a 25-year strategic accord with Iran covering economic, military and security co-operation reportedly worth several hundred billions dollars. Far from being helpful on the nuclear file, then, the CCP has in fact helped ensure Iran’s progress.

The nuclear program is not the only sphere in which the CCP has helped the Iranian regime threaten Israel. As I noted last year:

CCP proliferation agent Karl Lee (Li Fangwei), according to the US State Department, remains “the most important overseas supplier of items and material for Iran’s missile program,” and this has “contributed to Iran’s continued development of more sophisticated missiles with improved accuracy, range, and lethality.”

The CCP remains among the most important sources for electronic components for Iran’s drone and missile programs, even outside of Karl Lee. Additionally, the CCP has also ensured the advancement of the Iranian and Syrian missile and nuclear programs via its proxy state, North Korea.

The Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Lebanese proxy Hezbollah has also brokered arms deals between the CCP and IRGC organs. Currently, Iran is reportedly negotiating with China and Russia to obtain massive amounts of ammonium perchlorate, which would enable it to build thousands of additional ballistic missiles.

The CCP’s obstruction of any Western attempts to halt or even punish North Korea over its rapidly expanding and increasingly sophisticated nuclear weapons program and ballistic missile arsenal, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), would be replayed in the event of an Iranian nuclear breakout.

Beijing has no interest in nuclear non-proliferation; quite the contrary. Whether it’s drones, missiles or nuclear weapons, the CCP wants its partners, like Iran, to have the ability to threaten the US and its allies, including Israel. The overarching CCP goal is to undermine, divide and destroy the US-led order, and in this pursuit it is allied with Iran and Russia.

As US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East Dana Stroul pointed out in Congressional testimony in 2021:

When we were talking before about the Iran-supported UAV network or the [Israeli-owned oil tanker] Mercer Street [attacked by Iranian drones in July 2021], China was silent, both at the Security Council and in signing on to any statement. This is not a country… that is going to support our partners in their legitimate security and defence concerns and needs, and we remind them of that.

Cohen may have believed that it can’t hurt to raise Israeli priorities vis-à-vis Iran when speaking with his Chinese counterpart, but he must surely know that Israel absolutely cannot expect or rely on any help from Beijing. It is highly unlikely that the CCP will play any constructive role for Israel. But it can play, and currently is playing, a very destructive one.

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