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Netanyahu lauds transport project linking India to Europe via Mideast

Much depends on the hoped for normalization in Saudi-Israel ties.

Haifa Port, July 31, 2022. Photo by Shir Torem/Flash90.
Haifa Port, July 31, 2022. Photo by Shir Torem/Flash90.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday hailed a U.S.-led initiative to create a rail and shipping link that will connect India with the Middle East and Europe as the start of a “unique and unprecedented era of global and regional cooperation.”

The ambitious project, which Western leaders officially announced during the G20 summit in New Delhi this weekend, is part of a pioneering initiative to foster economic growth and political cooperation, building on the new possibilities created by the 2020 Abraham Accords and the normalization in relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel hoped for in early 2024.

“This link will also realize a multi-year vision that will change the face of the Middle East and Israel, and will affect the entire world,” Netanyahu said in a video statement. “Its vision reshapes the face of our region and allows a dream to become reality.”

Israel will be a “central junction” in this economic corridor, with Israeli railways and ports part of this new gateway, which will run from India, through the Middle East to Europe and back, the prime minister said.

“This is a big deal,” U.S. President Joe Biden said. “This is a really big deal.”

The proposal to create the link, which would start in India and pass through the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel before reaching Europe, is also seen as the latest indication that a historic peace deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia is likely in the months ahead.

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Saturday that the transportation project is not seen as a “precursor” to a normalization deal but he characterized Israel’s inclusion as “significant.”

“The participants in this effort are focused on practical outcomes that deliver for their people,” Sullivan said. “And a corridor of this kind by dint of geography works best having Israel in as opposed to out and the countries participating prioritized that.”

The Biden administration initiative, set to cost around $20 billion according to Saudi estimates, would boost trade, transport, energy resources and digital connectivity. It would include the construction of railways, a hydrogen pipeline, fiber-optic communications and electricity cables.

The news of the project, released jointly by the United States, India, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the European Union, France, Italy and Germany, is also meant to counter Chinese inroads in the region.

Netanyahu has previously discussed the possibility of a train route linking Israel to Saudi Arabia.

That regional proposal, which has undergone a preliminary feasibility study, awaits progress on a peace deal with Saudi Arabia.

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