eye on infrastructure

Expansive Mideast railway project expected to provide economic boon to Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the deal, inked at the G20 summit on Saturday, ‘will change the face of the Middle East’

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India welcomes President Joe Biden to the opening session during the G20 Leaders' Summit on September 9, 2023, in New Delhi, Delhi.

Israel may reclaim its historic role as a central stop on trade routes between Asia and Europe with the new international infrastructure project President Joe Biden and other global leaders announced on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi on Saturday.

Israel and Saudi Arabia are both partners in the initiative, which comes amid normalization talks between the countries. However, Jerusalem and Riyadh will not be coordinating directly, diplomatic sources tell JI; all talks towards realizing the project will go through Washington.

The initiative is meant to link South Asia to the Middle East and then Europe through railways and ports, and present an American-backed alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

The project also includes laying a hydrogen energy pipeline, fiber optics communications infrastructure and electricity cables.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the announcement and said the initiative puts Israel “at the focus of [the] unprecedented international project…that will change the face of the Middle East.”

“Israel will be a central junction in this economic corridor,” Netanyahu said. “Our railways and ports will open a new gateway from India, through the Middle East, to Europe, and back – from Europe to India via Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.” 

The project will be the largest international cooperation project in Israel’s history, and Netanyahu instructed his cabinet to take a whole-of-government approach to its implementation.

Infrastructure projects have been at the core of developing relations between Israel and the Arab world. The peace treaty between Israel and Jordan delved extensively into the issue of water supply, and the UAE brokered a green energy deal in 2021, by which Israel would desalinate water for Jordan, which would supply renewable energy from solar fields for Israel. 

Israeli Energy Minister Israel Katz was the first member of the current cabinet to visit the UAE to advance the water-for-solar-energy deal, which he said was “not just about resources; it’s about redefining relationships, fostering trust and working together for a brighter sustainable future.” Relations between Egypt and Israel warmed over the past decade along with cooperation in the natural gas sector. Israel also exports gas to Jordan and Egypt. Israel and Egypt signed an agreement with the EU last year, by which Israeli gas would be liquefied in Egypt and sent to Europe. Israel and Egypt also initiated the East Mediterranean Gas Forum, whose other members include Cyprus, Greece, France, Italy, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.

In the area of communications, Arc Solutions, a telecom infrastructure provider based in Dubai, signed an agreement with Bezeq International, Israel’s biggest internet service provider in February 2022 to connect Israel, Bahrain and the UAE by deploying its network in Bezeq’s Tel Aviv data center.

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