Cargo is not designated as Israel-destined while en route

Houthi bypass: Quietly, goods forge overland path to Israel via Saudi Arabia, Jordan

Avoiding attacks on ships in the Red Sea, Israel-based firms run trucking routes from the ports of Dubai and Bahrain to Haifa

Sharon Wrobel is a tech reporter for The Times of Israel.

The US-owned ship Genco Picardy, which came under attack on January 17, 2024, from a bomb-carrying drone launched by Yemen's Houthi rebels in the Gulf of Aden, on January 18, 2024. (Indian Navy via AP, FIle)
The US-owned ship Genco Picardy, which came under attack on January 17, 2024, from a bomb-carrying drone launched by Yemen's Houthi rebels in the Gulf of Aden, on January 18, 2024. (Indian Navy via AP, FIle)

The disruption of maritime trade in the Red Sea amid the ongoing assaults by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militants on cargo vessels has prompted Israeli freight and logistics firms to bypass the dangerous waters and switch to alternative overland routes to transport goods from the Far East to Israel via Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Israel-based freight forwarder Mentfield Logistics is among the companies involved in establishing a commercial trade route circumventing the Red Sea by sending goods from the ports of Dubai and Bahrain overland on trucks passing through the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and ending at Israeli ports. A second Israel-based firm, Trucknet, has also set up such a route.

While Jordan has had a peace agreement with Israel since 1994, and the UAE and Bahrain signed the Abraham Accords normalizing ties with Israel in 2020, Saudi Arabia has no diplomatic relations with Israel — though some progress has been made in that direction under US auspices.

“Ships coming from China and India unload containers in the ports of Bahrain and Dubai, and then the cargo is loaded onto Jordanian trucks and is transferred overland to Israel via the King Hussein border crossing with Jordan, where Israeli trucks await the goods,” Mentfield CEO Omer Izhari told The Times of Israel. “Dozens of trucks a day, not just by us, are facilitating this route to shorten shipping times for goods from textiles to electronics, raw materials for industry, metal pipes, and aluminum.”

Izhari explained that the goods, as they make their way through Saudi Arabia and Jordan, are not tracked as Israel-destined or Israeli goods as they are in transit until they get to Haifa port. This procedure, known as transshipment, is often used when there is no direct connection between two ports, and cargo therefore needs to be unloaded from one ship and transferred to another means of freight transportation by road or rail to complete a journey.

As commercial ships have come under relentless missile and drone attacks by Houthi terrorists since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, the world’s major shipping companies, including Denmark’s Maersk and German shipping company Hapag-Lloyd, as well as oil giant BP, have temporarily suspended sending their vessels through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, a key trade route connecting Asia, Israel, and Europe.

The Houthis, an Iranian proxy, say the Red Sea strikes are acts in solidarity with the people of Gaza during the ongoing war, which erupted after thousands of Hamas terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages on October 7.

Israel-based forwarder Mentfield Logistics specializes in air, sea, and road freight, and provides global supply chain services. (Courtesy)

The Houthi crisis has forced container vessels heading to Europe from the Far East to divert to a longer route around Africa and the Cape of Good Hope, increasing the shipping time of goods by two to four weeks and raising the costs per ship. The attacks on ships in and around the Red Sea have in the past weeks slowed trade between Asia and Europe.

Compared to detouring around Africa, “the overland route saves around 20 days, so instead of 50 to 60 days, goods arrive within 20 to 25 days from China to Israel,” said Izhari.

The idea of establishing a trade land bridge, connecting Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE from the Persian Gulf to Israel’s seaports, has been touted in recent years to facilitate the movement of goods.

The idea gathered pace as business ties in the Middle East began opening up following the 2020 signing of the Abraham Accords, the US-brokered agreement that normalized relations between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco.

“In the service that we offer, the goods are destined for Israel, but they go through transit to come to Israel and don’t travel or get tracked as Israeli goods,” said Izhari. “The Saudi government would not allow ‘Israeli goods’ to go through their territories.”

Mentfield Logistics CEO Omer Izhari. (Courtesy)

“I’m not a politician, I am just a believer in peace, and I am hopeful that a bilateral agreement to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia, similar to the Abraham Accords, will happen after the war, because we want to cooperate and work together,” he remarked.

Founded 40 years ago as a family business, the Israel-based freight forwarder Mentfield, with a headquarters in the UK, specializes in air, sea, and road freight and provides global supply chain and logistics services including customs clearance. In 2021, Israeli investment fund Legacy Partners bought a 50% stake in Mentfield.

The firm operates 31 offices in 11 countries, including the US, Germany, France, Italy, China, Hong Kong, as well as in Jordan, and employs a total of 650 people, of whom 250 work out of Israel.

Israeli smart transportation company Trucknet Enterprise is another company that has established an overland route to bypass the Red Sea. Trucknet forged cooperation agreements with Emirati-based counterpart Puretrans FZCO and the Dubai port-operating company DP World to establish a bi-directional overland trade route for the transfer of goods from the Persian Gulf through Saudi Arabia and Jordan to Israel bypassing the Red Sea waterway.

“There are dozens of Israeli companies that are collaborating with Dubai, Bahraini, and Jordanian companies to offer this shipping service,” said Izhari.

Germany’s container shipper Hapag-Lloyd has also said that it is introducing land transit routes through Saudia Arabia to offer connections from Dubai’s Jebel Ali, Saudi ports Dammam and Jubail on the east coast with Jeddah on the west coast. It also offers a land route that links Jebel Ali with Jordan.

Map of the land bridge that could see trucks traverse from the port of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, across Saudi Arabia and Jordan, into Israel, and Egypt. (Trucknet)

Separately, Transportation and Road Safety Minister Miri Regev announced in January that Israel is working on a plan to enable the transfer of goods from India through Abu Dhabi via an overland transportation route to Israel to bypass the Houthi-menaced Red Sea. The overland route is expected to shorten shipping times by 12 days, Regev said.

To open up additional alternative routes, Israel is also advancing the planned signing of a civil aviation agreement with Sri Lanka during Regev’s visit to India and Sri Lanka this week.

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