‘Peace Railway’ from Israel to Arab Gulf states to lay tracks

Backed by China, the project is “one of the most important geopolitical measures that Israel has taken in recent years,” says Globes.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

The announcement last week by the Ministry of Transportation that plans were advancing for a rail link from Israel to the Persian Gulf may be more than just an election ploy, Globes reported Wednesday.

The concept of a rail connection from Israel’s Mediterranean port of Haifa to the Arab states was raised four years ago by Finance Minister Yisrael Katz, who was transportation minister at the time and dubbed the project “Peace Railway.”

Last week, Transportation Minister Miri Regev announced the 3.5-billion shekel ($1 billion) project was moving to the planning stage.

“The Gulf to Gulf project is a mega-project that will change the face of the regional economy in the Middle East and connect Israel to many countries in the region by rail and will be a gateway to the Mediterranean for them,” Regev said in her announcement last week, as Haifa’s port is located in the Gulf of Haifa.

“This is economic news that will turn the countries of the Middle East into an island of economic power and stability based on reciprocity and peace,” Regev said.

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With Israel’s national elections only two weeks away, Globes called it a clear “election eve announcement,” but noted that “beneath all the fanfare is one of the most important geopolitical measures that Israel has taken in recent years, which will not only impact our neighbors but also Israel’s status in the region.”

With rail transportation making a comeback in the world, a Middle East “mega-railway project” would fit in with the Chinese government’s plan for a “silk railroad” connecting Asia and Europe.

China has invested hundreds of billions of dollars in building a transcontinental railway over the past decade, the paper noted, adding that countries in the Middle East like Israel that have been rehabilitating their rail networks are looking eastward and realizing that integrating with the Chinese transport network could open up new trade opportunities.

Regev said Israel will extend its new rail line, recently opened from Haifa to the Jordan Valley, and lay tracks to the Jordanian border.

However, once there, the outdated Jordanian narrow-gauge system will need to be updated – a serious challenge for cash-strapped Jordan, which wants to modernize but needs several billion dollars that it currently doesn’t have.

The Jordanian plan includes a new line going eastward to Iraq with an extension southward to Saudi Arabia, which would give Israel rail access to Arab Gulf states and in turn could send goods to Haifa, thereby bypassing the Suez Canal and the extra transit charges involved in using the Egyptian shipping channel.

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Globes noted that although the Egyptian government is not commenting on the rail project, in part due to its close economic collaboration with China, Egypt’s main media outlets have called the railway project “economic colonialism of the Zionist State.”

As well, the Saudis still have not recognized Israel, but with the project still years away, that would not yet cause a diplomatic hurdle.

At the same time, Turkey is pushing to have the Chinese run a rail line to its border as an alternate Asian route to Europe that could also involve Iraq and Iran.

It is known that China has a strong economic interest in Israel‘s transportation infrastructure and is investing in a new cargo port in Haifa. China previously bid on a new multi-billion rail line to join the Mediterranean port of Ashdod with the southern Israeli port city of Eilat – a project that would also allow bypassing the Suez Canal – but the project was put on hold due to funding and other issues.