China’s Entry into the Middle East Defence Market to Intensify Competition, Israel and US Defence Industry Watching the Emerging Trend


Foreign Affairs

Tel Aviv: The Russian invasion of Ukraine has already resulted in major changes in Europe and the Middle East. Another one is starting to emerge – greater competition between the Chinese Defence industry and those of the US and Israel.

The forecasted entry of China into the defence market in the Gulf States creates great interest as this brings Israel to compete with the Chinese on this big potential market.

According to Galia Lavi, a senior researcher in Israel Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), the Beijing government is observing closely and drawing conclusions. The first lesson: it is not possible to rely on Russia and Putin, who dragged China into this quagmire. The second lesson: the West is united and strong, certainly more than was thought. If President Xi had any doubts on this matter, President Biden, in a telephone conversation with his Chinese counterpart, specified how in certain scenarios the West would also take steps against China.

“Against this background, Chinese officials believe that the mutual dependence between China and the Middle East is growing stronger and will continue to grow, and that China has an unprecedented opportunity in the region. Moreover, they feel that the countries of the region are “looking eastward” as American influence declines. This argument is reinforced by the fact that United States demands to limit Chinese investments are falling on deaf ears in the Middle East.

For example, deals for 5G networks from the Chinese company Huawei have been signed with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Chinese-controlled ports are operating or are under construction in both these US allies, which have also received numerous Chinese investments in the fields of energy, infrastructures, and advanced technologies. Saudi Arabia and the UAE (twice!) turned down a direct request from President Biden to increase their oil production in order to exert further pressure on Putin.”

According to the Israeli senior researcher, it appears that China, which in any case wants to strengthen its ties with the Middle East, could be encouraged to pursue this goal with greater intensity following the insights and lessons it derives from the war in Ukraine. For Israel, whose relations with some Arab countries have improved significantly since the signing of the Abraham Accords, increasing Chinese involvement in the region could be an opportunity for collaboration between Israeli and Chinese companies on a variety of regional projects.

“On the other hand, the new situation could also entail risks of possible military cooperation between China and Middle Eastern countries, whether this refers to the construction of facilities to manufacture advanced military technologies, or the growing military presence of China itself, seeking to protect its interests. In addition, technological collaboration between Israel and China, whether directly or indirectly through other Middle East companies, could be an opening for technology transfer that will threaten Israel’s relations with its close friend, the United States. Therefore, Israel must carefully select possible desirable areas for cooperation with China and promote them, while excluding more problematic areas.”

According to the MEI@75 website, the UAE’s freezing of the F-35 fighter jet deal reveals the changing views in the Arab Gulf region vis-à-vis the US’ current and possible future role there.

“The scrubbing of the deal came after Abu Dhabi signed an alternative deal to acquire French Rafale fighters. This move also followed a debate in the Congress and the White House over China’s possible exploitation of its close relations with Abu Dhabi to obtain manufacturing secrets for the most advanced fighters in the US military arsenal.”

The website quotes a CNN report based on US intelligence reports from December 2021 disclosing that Riyadh is developing ballistic missiles with China’s help and manufacturing them at a site in the Kingdom revealed by satellite images.

“The Kingdom had also purchased Chinese ballistic missiles in 2019. additional information concerning Sino- cooperation between China and the Gulf states in nuclear energy, surveillance technology, 5G networks, and artificial intelligence (AI).”

As mentioned before, the new developments bring a surprising confrontation – a competition between China and Israel on the huge defence market in the Gulf states.

While the Israeli defence systems that are combat proven create great interest in the Gulf states, Israel finds itself in a very problematic position. Jerusalem needs formal and informal approved from Washington for the potential sales.

According to Dr Mordechai Kedar, a senior Israeli analyst on Middle East and Gulf issues, while in Syria the Russians tested many of their weapon systems in “laboratory conditions” as no real enemy countered them, in Ukraine the Russian weapon systems proved that in many aspects they are inferior even when used against the limited Ukraine military capabilities.

“And there is one other aspect – by buying Chinese made weapon systems the Gulf states push their finger into the American eye, one way to demonstrate their anger about the US policy in their region.”

It seems that the Chinese read the map and will take full advantage of the new order in the Gulf region and the implications of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.