The unnamed aide said on Tuesday: "If nothing else, Olmert needs to take home some sort of Chinese declaration of good intent on the Iranian issue. Even rhetoric can be useful."

"You can expect Olmert to be especially emotive on the existential threat that Israel faces from Iran."

Olmert is expected to meet Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, Wen Jiabao, the prime minister, and Bo Xilai, the commerce minister.

Important opportunity

A Chinese analyst on the Middle East said Israel's visit was an important opportunity for China to explore a bigger role in the region.

Zhang Xiaodong, of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the visit "will increase the mutual understanding".

"I am sure the Iranian issue will come up also, although this is not the primary issue."
Miri Eisen, spokeswoman
for Ehud Olmert
Tel Aviv is re-orientating itself towards Beijing as China, like Russia, shapes up to be a key swing voter among permanent members of the UN Security Council when it comes to tackling Iran.

Olmert will be following hard on the heels of Ali Larijani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, who visited Beijing last week.

Miri Eisin, Olmert's spokeswoman, said there would be discussions of bilateral issues, "mainly but not only, economic".

"I am sure the Iranian issue will come up also, although this is not the primary issue."

She said specific areas of co-operation such as agriculture, water supplies and science would also be discussed.

Economic realities

An unnamed Israeli official said there was no running away from the economic realities although they would like to see a change in China's voting patterns at the UN Security Council.

"No one tells China what to do. If it chooses to toughen up on Iran, it will need a major strategic boon in return, say closer relations with the US."

Olmert is the third Israeli prime minister to visit China since relations were established 15 years ago.

The period has also seen bilateral trade grow to more than $3 billion but that pales in comparison to China's huge consumption of Iranian oil which makes up 12 per cent of its crude imports.