Israel to begin promoting railway linking Haifa seaport with Saudi Arabia
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Israel to begin promoting railway linking Haifa seaport with Saudi Arabia

Transportation minister says he has begun consulting with leaders of relevant countries regarding plan that would give Gulf easier access to Europe

Government officials taking part in a test ride on a new train route near the northern city of Carmiel on March 21, 2017 (Basel Awidat/Flash90)
Government officials taking part in a test ride on a new train route near the northern city of Carmiel on March 21, 2017 (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Transportation Minister Israel Katz agreed this week to begin promoting their “Tracks for Regional Peace” initiative that is intended to create a trade route connecting Europe with the Persian Gulf and Israel, Hadashot news reported Saturday evening.

“Tracks for Regional Peace” is based on the planned extension of railway tracks in northern Israel, which would link Haifa’s seaport to Jordan’s rail network, which in turn will be linked with that of Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states.

The network is envisioned as creating a regional transportation system to enhance trade relations and promote peaceful coexistence.

Introduced in a new PR video from Netanyahu and Katz’s offices, the initiative will see the eastward extension of the Haifa-Beit She’an rail line to the Jordanian border and will also include a stop in Jenin, connecting the Palestinians to the broader plan.

Goods would be shipped from Europe to Haifa, allowing them to bypass civil war-torn Syria.

Transportation Minister Israel Katz in front of a map of the proposed rail network on April 5, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

“There are two central components at the heart of this initiative,” Katz explained when discussing the plan back in April. “Israel as a land bridge between Europe and the Mediterranean and Jordan; and Jordan as a regional transportation hub, which will be connected to a railroad system to Israel and the Mediterranean in the West; to Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and Iraq in the East and southeast; and to the Red Sea, through Aqaba and Eilat, in the south.”

“Beyond its contribution to Israel’s economy, the Jordanian and the Palestinian economies, the initiative will connect Israel economically and politically to the region and will consolidate the pragmatic camp in the region,” he claimed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, during the former’s surprise visit to Amman on January 16, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Yousef Allan/Jordanian Royal Palace)

The existing transportation infrastructure in Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf will allow for the application of the initiative in a relatively short amount of time, the PR video said.

The initiative is said to also offer shorter, cheaper, and safer trade routes in light of regional instability threatening passageways through the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf and the Bab al-Mandab Strait at the southern end of the Red Sea.

In a meeting this week, Katz and Netanyahu reached an agreement regarding the details of the initiative, with the latter instructing his office to begin advancing the plan in consultations with the US, European Union, and various countries in the Middle East and Asia.

Israel is expecting the US to play an important role in providing political backing for the plan.

Responding to a Times of Israel query on behalf of Greenblatt in April, a White House official said the proposal was “interesting,” but said the US does not yet have an informed position on it.

While Katz has said that he has spoken with the leaders of the relevant countries regarding the initiative, there is no indication that any of them have agreed to its application.

The transportation minister, who opposes Palestinian statehood, has argued that connecting Israelis and Palestinians with the Sunni Arab world would dramatically increase trade and lay the groundwork for a future regional peace.

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