Alwaght- Hardline Israeli cabinet led by Prime Minister Benjamin that has failed to lure Arab countries into normalization project is now setting an economic trap for a big hunt like Saudi Arabia given its knowledge of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s zeal for international development initiatives.
In a cabinet meeting last week, Netanyahu announced start of work on a new railway that is capable of connecting the occupied territories to the Persian Gulf Arab monarchies in the future.
Netanyahu said Tel Aviv will begin a $27 billion railway project to expand current Israeli rail network and connect outlying areas to Tel Aviv.
Netanyahu said on Sunday that the Israel railway project is designed to reduce the time it takes to reach government and business centers of the country to less than two hours.
“I would like to add that in the future we will also be able to transport cargo by rail from Eilat to our Mediterranean, and will also be able to link Israel by train to Saudi Arabia and the Arabian peninsula," he said during televised remarks.
The port of Eilat, located on the coast of the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea, is the only Israeli access way to the Red Sea. If this 350-kilometer long rail route is built, ships traveling from the Persian Gulf and East Asia to Europe and the West will dock at Eilat port, and their cargoes will be transported by trains from Eilat to Ashdod port and from there to Europe.
Tel Aviv first unveiled the project of Eilat railway link to the ports of Haifa and Ashdod in 2013, but this project was ultimately not approved. In support of his plan, Netanyahu had said at the time that the completion of the project would speed up international trade, as it would only take two hours to transfer goods from Eilat to Ashdod and vice versa.
The construction of this rail link was supposed to be given to Chinese companies so that they could launch it in the shortest possible time, but it has not yet reached the implementation stage. But it seems that this time the far-right government is determined to implement this project as soon as possible, because now the parliament is held by radical parties and there is no serious obstacle to approve its budget.
Making the normalization profitable for Arabs
Aside from the economic interests Tel Aviv claims is seeking, there are some other covert goals behind this new rail project that are linked to the Arab countries.
Normalization of relations with Saudi Arabia is Netanyahu's dream, and he has been counting the moments for years to realize this dream, and that is why he has launched new initiatives so that he may be able to lure this influential and wealthy country in the Arab world into normalization. Netanyahu has repeatedly claimed that if relations with Saudi Arabia are normalized, the Israeli-Arab tensions will be defused forever and other Arab countries will also follow suit.
In recent years, the US officials have pushed hard to convince Saudi officials to normalize relations, and recently both the US Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor of the White House traveled to Saudi Arabia to discuss this matter with the kingdom.
In fact, Tel Aviv's attempt to build a railway to transfer goods from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea in the shortest possible time is made with the aim of improving relations with the Arab countries to arable the Arab states to easily transport their goods, which used to be transported to Europe through the Suez Canal, from inside the occupied territories in a shorter time.
Former Israeli Transportation Minister Israel Katz in 2018 and during a visit to Oman discussed the so-called ‘peace railway’ that would link the Arab monarchies to Jordan and then to the occupied territories. A couple of months ago, during his talks with Jordan's King Abdullah II , Netanyahu talked the project. The only big obstacle to conclusion of the project is a 300-kilometer rail route inside Saudi Arabia, and once this part is build, Netanyahu's dream will come true.
The Israeli regime has already made arrangements for goods exports from Eilat to the Mediterranean and in 2021, Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi agreed to transfer oil of the Arab country to Europe using Eilat-Ashdod pipeline. The UAE is currently using this pipeline for Europe oil exports.
A probe published by the Haaretz last month revealed that the number of oil tankers headed to Eilat has increased fivefold in the past two years after the implementation of the Emirati-Israeli deal.
Also, according to the Israeli media, in addition to transferring Emirati oil to Europe, Tel Aviv can also supply its own oil in this way to world markets. Therefore, if other Arab countries, mainly Qatar and Saudi Arabia, want to use this rail route to ship oil to Europe, the road to normalization with Israeli regime will be paved, and this is fueling Netanyahu's push to complete the rail line faster.
In the past two years, India, as one of the trade partners of the Israeli regime, has made agreements with Persian Gulf monarchies to develop rail and sea corridors and transfer goods to Europe in the shortest time and at a lower cost. Therefore, by grabbing the attention of one of the world's emerging economic powers in East Asia, the Israelis are actually provoking the desire of the Arabs to participate in this transit line.
The Israelis consider Eilat-Ashdod rail transfer as a land bridge contributing to boost of Tel Aviv's international position, especially among major economic powers like China, because if powerful countries such as China and India use this route, it will play an important role in trade. In addition, huge revenues will flow into Tel Aviv's coffers. According to the Globes newspaper, this project will also improve Eilat's tourism environment, as it will help bring two million tourists to the city. Therefore, Tel Aviv can settle part of its economic problems caused by outflow of foreign capital over the past year.
Circumventing Suez Canal and throttling Egypt's economic artery
Though Netanyahu cabinet's initiative is meant to improve relations with the Arab states, it actually sidelines Suez Canal that for decades has been the link between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean and cuts off Egypt's economic artery. In 2013, in a speech justifying the construction of this railway, Netanyahu said that bypassing the Suez Canal is one of the goals of his government's decision to build a railway between Tel Aviv and Eilat.
For Egypt, a country with a weak economic foundation, the Suez Canal as one of the economic seagates of the world produces a lot of income. According to the statistics provided by the Suez Canal Authority, Egypt's income from ships passing through this canal was about $6.5 billion in 2017, which reached $7 billion in 2021, and $9.4 billion in 2022, and estimates suggest that these revenues will touch $11 billion this year. Also, the Suez Canal has uplifted the weight and international position of Egypt, and from this point of view, a drop in the importance of the canal in international trade will be disastrous for Egypt's global image.
Taking this into account, if the Israeli railway project is realized and countries begin to use this route to export their goods to Europe, Egypt will suffer economically, and this issue will spark a serious challenge in the relations between Cairo and Tel Aviv. Given the ambitious plans of the Netanyahu government, the hidden goal of Tel Aviv to transfer ownership of the strategic Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir from Egypt to Saudi Arabia grows more and more overt. If these islands, which are located at the entrance of the Gulf of Aqaba, are taken out of Egypt's control and their management is transferred to Saudi Arabia, the Israelis will get an opportunity to advance their plans better. When Tel Aviv starts goods transfer using its new rail route, Egypt could disrupt the sea navigation as a retaliation to Suez circumvention. But if Tel Aviv takes the two islands out of Egypt's hands, it can complete its project easily.
The Suez Canal connects the Mediterranean to the Red Sea and is about 193 kilometers long. It was built in 1869 and is located in the west of the Sinai Desert northeast of Egypt. The construction of this canal enabled the ships to bypass Africa in their way from Asia to Europe and America. Currently, 12 percent of the world's trade is carried out through the Suez Canal, and after the prominent pyramids, it is the main source of foreign income for Cairo.
Given the narrow width of the canal, about 313 meters, bulky ships face difficulty passing through it, and it was several times blocked because of grounded ships.
The latest incident took place in March 2021 when a giant, 400-meter ship stuck in the canal and blocked navigation in the area for a week, causing concerns for countries that if this incident is repeated, sea trade will be disrupted. Therefore, the Israeli route will never be built like Suez Canal in which the navigation alternates daily between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. In fact, Israel will dig two independent canals, one from the Red Sea and the other to it, and this means there will be no alternate navigation and delay, while in the Suez Canal, it takes the ships two weeks to fully sail out of it. With its rail new route project, Tel Aviv means to send a message to other countries that railway is the best option available for them to ship their products from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean and from there to Europe uninterrupted.