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Archive for January, 2014

The following article, which originally appeared on Shma.com, addresses China’s increased commercial and academic clout in Israel, including the recently created Technion Guangdong Institute of Technology. It was written by Sam Chester, an expert on China-Middle East affairs and a graduate of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. His regular commentary on Sino-Middle East issues can be found on Twitter @Shaihuludata.

Sam Chester

Sam Chester

As relations between China and Israel have dramatically expanded in the last few years, several major questions remain unanswered. For starters, China has become every top Israeli leader’s favorite talking point, but the Jewish state remains without a coherent strategy on how to engage the Asian giant. What, in short, is Israel’s China policy? Furthermore, why are trade and investment numbers so low despite all the talk that Israeli innovation is a perfect marriage for Chinese capital and manufacturing? And, finally, how can Israel develop ties with China without sacrificing its long-standing relationship with the United States?

While none of these questions are easily answered, Israel and its supporters are making progress on the first two areas of concern. A coherent China policy may be too much to expect from a governing system that is not known as a bastion of coordinated strategic planning. That said, a new task force led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s top economic advisor, Eugene Kandel, is helping to streamline bilateral interactions around a single agenda based on trade, investment, and cultural exchange. The two governments’ recommitment to boosting commercial ties, coupled with the constant stream of Chinese business delegations to Israel, suggests that trade and investments will continue to improve.

The prognosis for Israel successfully balancing ties with China and the United States is far less promising. When Jerusalem and Beijing first drew close in the late 1990s, Washington broke up the promising relationship over a fear that China was acquiring advanced Israeli weaponry. With Israel and China having ended their weapons business in 2005 under American pressure, security concerns are presumably no longer an issue. But China’s emergence as America’s main global rival means that every encouraging advance in Sino-Israel relations is a setback for U.S. interests in the Jewish state. Or, at least, that is the message communicated in much of the media coverage of Sino-Israel developments.

At the Great Wall

At the Great Wall

Take, for instance, the recent $130 million donation by Chinese billionaire Li Ka-Shing to the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. Media coverage contrasts the Chinese largess to the academic boycotts launched by Americans and Europeans against Israeli universities. Reports of Israeli venture capital firms establishing new funds with Chinese capital portray American economic strength as faltering since the 2008 financial crisis (in marked contrast to newly energized Chinese investors). And, finally, China’s purported involvement in some of Israel’s most ambitious economic projects — such as exporting Israel’s new offshore gas or building a rail line to bypass the Suez Canal in the Negev Desert — is presented as threatening American interests in the Jewish state.

Political developments between Israel and China are portrayed as even larger setbacks for the United States. When China hosted Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Beijing in May, media coverage suggested that China was seeking to replace the United States as the principal peacemaker between the two sides. When Israel revealed that it would be opening up a sorely needed consulate in the booming western Chinese city of Chengdu, the spin suggested that the Consul General of Israel in Philadelphia would close to provide the needed budget for the new consulate in China. And China’s opposition to American policy in Syria is portrayed as further evidence that, with Beijing’s growing dependence on Arab oil, China will soon become deeply involved in Middle East crises.

Much of this media narrative is heavily exaggerated and quite harmful. It is important to understand clearly that China remains committed to avoiding political entanglement in the Middle East, and its increased commercial and academic clout in Israel is no different than its investments in much of the developed world. More to the point, America remains the critical economic and political partner in Israel and across the Middle East.

A narrative that paints closer ties between Israel and China as undermining American interests is a disservice to all three countries. Fortunately, an alternative narrative readily exists, in which Israel serves as a bridge between East and West, a state that helps the two global powers interact and advance their mutual interests. With a thriving start-up economy, political stability in a region marked by endless turmoil, and a reserve of cultural (if not political) goodwill in both Beijing and Washington, Israel has much to attract both China and the United States. For example, the Chinese gift to the Technion includes building a branch of the esteemed Israeli research center in southern China. With another overseas campus planned for New York City, the Technion is positioning itself as an academic nexus connecting American and Chinese students under the aegis of Israeli know-how. In presenting itself as a conduit between the two global powers, Israel would be reaching back to a narrative that was successful in the 1990s, when the United States initially supported the uptick in Sino-Israel relations and China was all too happy to become friendly with a country it considered highly influential in Washington.

Still, Israel and its supporters are all too familiar with the power of narrative. But when it comes to Israel’s dealings with China, the Jewish state is standing pat while a harmful narrative falsely plays China off the United States. For the benefit of all three counties, this narrative can and should be corrected.

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Terry Gardner lives in the global hub of the offshore oil industry — Houston, Texas. He spent 33 years at ExxonMobil and BP developing technology for deepwater oil and gas production. Now retired, he teaches about the technology being used around the world in deepwater projects. So when he learned that the Technion is responding to Israel’s deepwater discoveries by training the nation’s first gas and oil engineers, he volunteered to help make the program a success.

Terry Gardner

Terry Gardner teaching Israel’s first gas and oil engineers during an intensive course at the Technion in deepwater technology.

President of the ATS Houston Chapter since 2007 and a member of the National ATS Board of Directors, Terry provided a generous gift in support of the new Natural Gas and Petroleum Engineering Graduate Program (NG & PE). An aerospace engineer turned deepwater oil and gas engineer, he also traveled to the Technion campus, where he had taught briefly in the 1970s, to teach a course on deepwater drilling and production.

Background

In January 2009, Houston-based Noble Energy, in partnership with several Israeli companies, discovered the Tamar gas field deep beneath the Mediterranean, 50 miles from Haifa. While there had been other small gas and oil discoveries over the decades, Tamar was then the largest to date. That record was quickly broken.

The following year, a natural gas field nearly twice that size was uncovered some 20 miles away and aptly called Leviathan (“great whale” in Hebrew). With an estimated 17 trillion cubic feet of gas, Leviathan became the largest gas reservoir found anywhere in the world over the past decade — and a potential game changer for Israel. Tamar and Leviathan, plus subsequent discoveries, can provide enough natural gas to meet Israel’s domestic energy needs for decades to come, leaving billions of dollars worth of natural gas reserves for export.

“These giant gas discoveries, and a high potential for oil as well, will greatly reduce Israel’s dependence on foreign imports,” Terry says. But Noble Energy is currently providing all the engineering and management for Israel’s developments. “Israel needs to develop its own capability to run such projects. Further, given Israel’s record of advancing technology in so many other fields, there is great opportunity here for Israeli ingenuity.”

“Professor Gardner”

In December 2013, Terry headed to the Technion campus to teach the course on deepwater drilling and production technology that he has developed for his consulting practice. In the Technion graduate program, a semester class is usually taught twice weekly over a 10-12 week period. But when taught by an overseas visiting instructor, it is compressed into an intensive six-day week. Terry recruited a colleague, Mark Ramsey of Texas Drilling Associates, to join him and teach fundamental drilling technology topics.

Their 17 graduate students, ranging in age from 26 to 52 years old, were remarkably responsive and inquisitive. “I admired their drive. Many took time off from work or away from their family at their own expense because they had a personal ambition to do something new,” Terry says. They recognized they were unlikely to find related work quickly in Israel because Israel is still a small player on the global scene. “But they don’t worry about having to see the future clearly before they start moving towards it. That’s the way Israel works,” he says. “With the potential for further large discoveries in the eastern Mediterranean, likely including oil, Israel may find a niche in this global industry. These engineers sense there will be opportunities for Israel innovators in deepwater oil and gas technology.”

The students invited Terry and Mark out to dinner on two occasions. Another evening, they dined with Professors Gideon Grader, head of the Grand Technion Energy Program, and Yoed Tsur, Director of The Interdisciplinary Energy Graduate Study Program, home to the NG & PE Program. “The class went very well and we got nice ratings from the appreciative students,” Terry said upon his return.

Young and Restless

Terry studied Engineering Mechanics in the early 1960s, earning his bachelors and master’s degrees at Cornell University and his doctorate from University of California, Los Angeles. “Not happy in the U.S. and trying to figure out who I was, I spent a few months in Spain,” he relates. He learned Spanish, but still unfulfilled, moved to Israel. He joined an Ulpan program at Kibbutz Hanita on the Lebanese border, where he spent half the day studying Hebrew and the remainder working in the fields.

After the Ulpan, he landed a job at Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI), and during that period also taught occasionally in the Technion’s Aeronautics Department. Living in Tel Aviv, he met and married a young Sabra named Shifra. Two years later they moved to California, where he worked in the aerospace industry while Shifra taught Hebrew. In 1976, they moved to Houston when Terry got a job as a Research Advisor for ExxonMobil Upstream Research Co.

“I always had very fond memories of my experience at Technion” he says. So when Terry met Hershel Rich, Houston’s iconic Technion supporter, he too became involved. “The Technion is enormously attractive as a contributor to Israel’s security and global image for medical advances, innovation and entrepreneurial growth. It’s very satisfying to be associated with such a successful enterprise.”

Terry Gardner and Mark Ramsey with students of the Technion Natural Gas and Petroleum Engineering Graduate Program (NG & PE).

Terry Gardner and Mark Ramsey with students of the Technion Natural Gas and Petroleum Engineering Graduate Program (NG & PE).

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