News / Middle East

Israel Lobbied China to Support New UN Sanctions on Iran

In the months leading up to the U.N. Security Council's vote imposing new sanctions on Iran, Israel had been working to convince China, one of the council's permanent members, to vote for the measure.  Israel argued that Tehran's nuclear program poses a threat to the oil supplies that Beijing needs to fuel its economy.

Israel on Thursday praised the U.N. Security Council's decision to impose new sanctions on Iran, calling the action important and useful.

Israel lobbied months for the vote, and reports this week indicate much of the Israeli focus was on China.  China, followed by Russia, was the most reluctant of the council's five permanent members to support the new sanctions.  Beijing's support was critical because the Security Council's permanent members hold veto power.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told VOA that swaying China was a very high priority.

"Since China has a very intense and ramified economic relationship with Iran, it was very important to have China on board not just for the credibility of the resolution but also for its implementation," said Palmor.

Some Israeli officials, speaking anonymously, have disclosed details of a meeting between a high-level Israeli delegation and Chinese officials in Beijing in February.

The New York Times quotes one Israeli official as saying the Chinese appeared unmoved when the Israelis spoke with them about the potential damage to China's economy if Israel carried out an air attack on Iran.  However, the Israeli official added the Chinese "really sat up in their chairs" when the Israelis described how such an air strike would disrupt oil supplies to China.

Iran is a major petroleum supplier to China, which depends heavily on oil imports to fuel its economic growth.

East Asian Studies Professor Yitzhak Schichor at Hebrew University has written extensively about China's international energy policy and has advised Israel's government on Chinese affairs.  He says Beijing has for some time viewed the possibility of Israeli air strikes on Iran as dangerous.

"There could be a kind of military action.  The Chinese cannot rule out this possibility," noted Schichor.  "And the price that China is going to pay for the disruption of its vital interests in the Gulf, in Iran, in my view, is too high.  And I think this is one reason, maybe, why China decided to support sanctions, or certainly not to oppose them."

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor says Israel will not take credit for influencing China's vote.

"I don't think that the Chinese position can be attributed to just these Israeli moves or what could be called Israeli lobbying," added Palmor.  "I'm sure that the views and positions [of] a number of interested and concerned countries convinced China that this was of the utmost importance."

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called for the elimination of the Jewish State.  

It may never be known if Israel's efforts influenced China's vote on sanctions, but it highlights Israel's tenacious efforts to sway international decisions in the face of what it sees as an existential threat from Iran.  

While welcoming the sanctions, Israel says it will not rule out military action against Iran if the sanctions are not implemented.

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