JERUSALEM: Israel’s military chief Lieutenant General Benny Gantz left for China on Sunday morning, just days ahead of a critical meeting between world powers and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear programme.
According to the Israeli military, Gantz’s visit comes at the invitation of China’s Chief-of-Staff General Chen Bindnge, who visited Israel last August.
Gantz will meet Chinese security and military officials to “discuss current security and strategic challenges, the regional security status in the Middle East and military cooperation,” the military said in a statement.
He will also tour the Jewish museum in Shanghai.
China is one of the five permanent UN Security Council members which along with Germany comprise the so-called P5+1 group, which will be meeting with Iranian officials in the Iraqi capital on May 23.
The Baghdad meeting marks the second round of talks between Iran and world powers over Tehran’s disputed nuclear programme, which were revived in April in Istanbul after a 15-month impasse.
China is one of the biggest customers for Iran’s oil, and has publicly resisted joining the Western sanctions imposed on Tehran.
Top Israeli officials have repeatedly expressed scepticism that the talks would succeed in convincing Iran to abandon its nuclear programme, which Israel and much of the West believes is a bid to develop atomic weapons — a charge denied by Tehran.
Security ties between Israel and China became strained after Washington pressured the Jewish state to cancel a deal in 2005 to upgrade Harpy Killer drones it had sold to Beijing amid concerns that advanced US defence technology contained in Israeli equipment could be used against Taiwan.
The Harpy debacle saw China demanding millions in compensation from Israel in what was second such claim in five years.
Israel had previously paid Beijing $350 million after breaking an agreement in 2000 to supply Falcon airplanes with an AWACS radar system.
A number of senior Israeli officials have visited China since then, most recently Defence Minister Ehud Barak in June 2011.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, an Israeli defence official told AFP that Washington was informed in advance of Gantz’s visit.