May 10, 2014 4:50 am JST

Israel pivots to China, India as US influence wanes

SHINYA OSHINO, Nikkei staff writer

CAIRO -- Israel is working hard to build stronger security and economic ties with China and India, looking to broaden its options as the U.S., its closest ally, starts to play a smaller role on the world stage.

     Israel has high hopes for help from Beijing in dealing with Iran's nuclear weapons development. "China has a central role in the efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb," Israeli President Shimon Peres told Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping during a trip to China early last month.

     Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited China last May, and top defense officials from the two countries have been deepening their ties. The high-profile visits underscore Israel's aim of improving its diplomatic position in the United Nations by growing closer to China, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.

     India agreed in February to work with Israel to devise anti-terrorism measures and develop a missile defense system. They also plan to set up a fund to support joint ventures between technology companies in both countries.

     Meanwhile, the increasingly complex global landscape has created various sources of friction between Washington and its Middle Eastern ally.

     On March 27, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution rejecting Russia's annexation of Crimea. But Israel abstained, choosing to maintain relations with Moscow, which has significant sway over the course of the war in Syria and the Iran situation, both of which directly affect Israel's national security.

     This reportedly infuriated the White House. But "our security interests should not be defined as identical to that of anyone else, even the U.S.," a top Israeli defense official told local media.

     Israel's trade with Beijing has also become a source of discord. Israeli exports of high-tech products to China jumped 170% in five years to reach $1.58 billion in 2013. It was reported at the end of last year that advanced missile technology had reached China via Israeli companies.

     In the 1990s, an Israeli plan to sell surveillance aircraft to China was derailed by U.S. pressure. If Israel keeps growing closer to such countries as China and Russia, it could invite interference from Washington again.