BANGKOK, Thailand -- China is constructing seaports at two sites where
the U.S. 6th Fleet deploys, in Haifa next to Israel's main naval base
and Ashdod near Tel Aviv, prompting concerns about China's military
potential in the Mediterranean Sea and Middle East.

"The civilian [Chinese] port in Haifa abuts the exit route from the
adjacent [Israeli] navy base, where the Israeli submarine fleet is
stationed and which, according to foreign media reports, maintains a
second-strike capability to launch nuclear missiles," Israel's Haaretz
media reported.

"No one in Israel thought about the strategic ramifications," Haaretz
said in September.

The guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke visited Haifa on
October 25 in support of the 6th Fleet which is headquartered in
Naples, Italy.

Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG) signed the Haifa contract in
2015, began construction in June, and is to operate the Bayport
Terminal for 25 years starting from 2021.

SIPG signed memorandums of understanding with U.S. ports in Seattle,
Washington in 2006 and Georgia Ports Authority in 2004, plus
Barcelona, Spain, in 2006.

SIPG also works with European ports in Rotterdam, Hamburg and London,
and two ports in Japan, its website said.

China Harbor Engineering, one of China's biggest government-owned
enterprises, is meanwhile constructing a port at Ashdod, 25 miles (40
kilometers) south of Tel Aviv.

"At $3 billion, this is one of the biggest overseas investment
projects in Israel, ever, and also one of the biggest for the Chinese
company, China Harbor Engineering," wrote Arthur Herman, senior fellow
at the Washington-based Hudson Institute think tank in November.

"Ashdod on the Mediterranean coast is the destination of fully 90
percent of Israel's international maritime traffic," Mr. Herman said.

Ashdod's current port hosted the USS Ross guided-missile destroyer in
October which also supports "U.S. national security interests in the
U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations," a USS Ross public affairs officer
said on the Navy's website.

"This is an historic moment," Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu said in 2017 when he joined Chinese officials to lay the
cornerstone of the Ashdod port.

Israel's Transportation Ministry and the Ports Authority permitted
construction of the Chinese ports at Haifa and Ashdod "with zero
involvement of the [Israeli] National Security Council and without the
[Israeli] navy," Haaretz said.

"The first [concern] is over Chinese control of strategic
infrastructure and the possibility of espionage," the London-based
Economist magazine reported in October.

"Israeli submarines, widely reported to be capable of launching
nuclear missiles, are docked there [at Haifa]. Yet the deal with the
Chinese firm was never discussed by the cabinet or the national
security council, a situation one [Israeli] minister described as
astonishing," the Economist said.

"There are skeptics in several Israeli political parties and among
former national security officials, who warn of potential security
issues and possible friction with the United States resulting from
Chinese involvement in Israeli infrastructure projects," wrote Elliott
Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the
Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations and former deputy
national security advisor to President George W. Bush.

The ports form part of China's international, multi-billion-dollar One
Belt One Road Initiative.

The Belt and Road project would link China with countries elsewhere in
Asia, the Middle East and Europe along lucrative trading routes across
land and sea, with Ashdod serving as a crucial port for seaborne trade
with Europe, Mr. Abrams said.

China's Haifa and Ashdod ports are part of "an ambitious trans-Asian
strategy to pursue three key resources for China's future greatness:
petrochemicals, consumer markets, and advanced technology," he said in
his 2018 brief.

Middle East oil and gas fuels China's growth. The Middle East would
also offer a huge commerical market for purchasing Chinese exports,
including consumer goods, electronics and other items.

Gilad Cohen, the Israeli Foreign Ministry's deputy director general
for Asia and the Pacific, is bullish on Chinese investments in Israel.

"Recently there have been increasing warnings against allowing China
to participate in projects and investments in Israel," Mr. Cohen said
in October.

"There are some who go as far as to deem any Chinese economic
involvement in our region as a threat to our interests and a danger to
our economic independence. These statements are damaging to relations
between the countries.

"We are a country with confidence in its capabilities, unafraid of
exposure to new markets, while we safeguard our security and strategic
interests," Mr. Cohen wrote in a published opinion piece headlined:
"How Close to China is Too Close for Israel?"

Prime Minister Netanyahu meanwhile hosted China's Vice President Wang
Qishan along with Jack Ma, CEO and founder of the e-commerce giant
Alibaba, in Jerusalem in October.

Their summit "reflects the growing ties between our countries, our
economies, our peoples," Mr. Netanyahu said.

In 2017, Mr. Netanyahu visited Beijing and met Chinese President Xi Jinping.

China established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992 when Deng
Xiaoping and Yitzhak Rabin were in power, and continues to support
Israel during votes in the United Nations.