(JTA) — The head of China’s military will visit Israel for the first time.
Chen Bingde, chief of staff of the People’s Liberation Army, will be hosted next week by his Israeli counterpart, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, the Israeli military said Monday.
The visit follows Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s trip to China two months ago.
Although China and Israel have had an occasionally frayed relationship, most recently over China’s ties to Iran, bilateral trade reached $6.7 billion in 2010.
Avrum Ehrlich, director of the Israel-China Institute, told The Associated Press that China’s Middle East policy is changing in the wake of unrest in the Arab world.
"The most important driving factors of Chinese foreign policy are its oil and securing its transport routes," Ehrlich said, adding that the upcoming visit reflects China’s desire to use Israel as a gateway to the Mediterranean and Europe instead of Syria.