Israeli plan to revive Gulf rail link prompts concern in Egypt

11 Jan 2018

A pre-World War I rail passageway, once linking Israel to the Gulf states, may be brought back to life after more than a century.

Israeli Minister of Intelligence and Transportation Yisrael Katz raised the possibility last month, announcing a plan to revive the railway project, Al-Monitor reports.

In an interview with Saudi Arabian news outlet Elaph, Katz said the railway would run parallel to the Red Sea coast and the Suez Canal.

“We will extend the track that connects Haifa and Beit Shean to the King Hussein Bridge; the Jordanians will extend it to connect to the Saudi railways,” he was quoted as saying.

The original Hejaz railway was built in 1908 to link Damascus to Medina through the Hejaz region of Saudi Arabia, and was then extended to Haifa on the Mediterranean Sea. Following the outbreak of World War I, sections of the rail were either destroyed or closed.

The news has prompted concern in Egypt regarding the long-term prospects of the Suez Canal Economic Zone, despite a successful year for the project in 2017.

“This railway will be an alternative to the Suez Canal. It will affect its future revenues, especially as it will be safer than the canal in the case that the Yemen conflict escalates and the Houthis and the Iranian navy try to control Bab al-Mandab Strait,” former Egyptian presidential adviser Ahmed al-Meslemani said on his television show following the news.

“This is not as simple as Katz or Meslemani are saying,” retired Maj. Gen. Mamdouh Attieh told Al-Monitor. “The control by Iran or the Houthis of Bab al-Mandab Strait is not only a hostile act toward Egypt and the Suez Canal, it is an international hostile act and will affect trade between the East and West. Any attempt by Iran or the Houthis to control Bab al-Mandab Strait will face a fierce and violent international response.”

Professor of economics at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport Mustafa Al-Rasheed, disagreed with Meslemani, telling Al-Monitor, “The Israeli project is not a competitor to the Suez Canal, to begin with, and cannot affect its revenues.”

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