Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in Shanghai Monday morning, his first stop on a tour that culminates in meetings with Chinese leaders. His visit coincides with that of President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, who arrived in Beijing Sunday. The two leaders are not scheduled to meet with one another, though a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry told reporters they would happily accommodate such a meeting.
For Abbas, this Chinese excursion is an opportunity to further third party negotiations with Israel but for Netanyahu, right now, there are more pressing issues. In light of current security threats to Israel's borders, Netanyahu will likely appeal to the communist superpower for support against Syria. Given America's reluctance to intervene in Syria on behalf of Israel, and China's growing power in the region, this visit may very well signal a shift in Sino-Arab diplomatic relations.
Ironically, on the morning of Netanyahu's arrival in Shanghai, the Chinese Foreign Ministry condemned Israel for airstrikes against Syria. The night before, Israeli warplanes bombed the outskirts of Damascus for a second time in 48 hours, according to Syrian state media. Israel says the airstrikes were a preemptive measure, aimed at preventing a shipment of Iranian arms from reaching Hezbollah, Israel's regional foe.
Israel has stressed its commitment to keep "game changing" weapons out of the hands of Hezbollah but the Iranian government is making that a futile task. Iran continues to bolster Hezbollah with arms and fighters in the case that rebels depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Syria ceases to be a pipeline from Iran to Lebanon.
The Iranian government is deeply invested in the Assad regime and China, as a major buyer of Iranian oil, is deeply invested in Iran. Accordingly China consistently vetoes UN resolutions that would put significant pressure the Assad regime. Together, the alliance of China, Iran, and Russia is a counterbalance to American power in the region.
If any nation has the capacity to influence Iran and Syria without the use of military force or economic sanctions, it is China. With that being said, there are several possible outcomes of Israel's dealings with China, the least likely being a direct strike against Iran or Syria. China may use its positive influence in the region to negotiate an agreement that precludes retaliatory attacks for Israel's airstrikes. Another possibility is that China will negotiate on Israel's behalf, in exchange for concessions in the Israel-Palestine standoff.
In retrospect, President Obama's address to the University of Israel earlier this year seems eerily prescient. The President told a group of students that ending West Bank occupation is critical to preserving Jewish democratic state.
"The only way to truly protect the Israeli people is through the absence of war, because no wall is high enough," he said, "to stop every enemy from inflicting harm."
In this case, Israel's willingness to cooperate with Palestine may give it the international support it needs to defend its own borders.