Is­rael plans rail link to Saudi via Jor­dan, PA

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY ANSHEL PFEFFER

IS­RAEL IS push­ing a new plan to link the coun­try’s Mediter­ranean ports to rail­ways in the re­gion.

Trans­port and In­tel­li­gence Af­fairs Min­is­ter Yis­rael Katz pub­licly pre­sented his “Tracks for Re­gional Peace” ini­tia­tive this week, which has al­ready been shared with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and other al­lies of Is­rael, in­clud­ing a num­ber of Arab states.

The plan is to con­nect largely ex­ist­ing rail in­fra­struc­ture in Is­rael, Jor­dan and Saudi Ara­bia via a new link be­tween the Jezreel Val­ley and the bor­der cross­ing to Jor­dan near Bet Shean. This would to al­low goods trains to run all the way from the Per­sian Gulf to the ports of Ash­dod and Haifa.

The di­rect links could po­ten­tially shorten the dis­tance be­tween the main Saudi and Gulf hubs and the Mediter­ranean by thou­sands of miles. It could also al­low goods ship­ments to by­pass both the tense Hor­muz straits, dom­i­nated by Iran; and the Bab-al-Man­deb straits con­nect­ing the In­dian Ocean and the Red Sea, cur­rently threat­ened by the Houthis in Ye­men. The net­work could po­ten­tially also in­clude a link to a sta­tion in the north­ern West Bank, pro­vid­ing ac­cess for goods in and out of the Pales­tinian Author­ity.

The rail trans­port project is the sec­ond ma­jor in­fra­struc­ture pro­gramme be­ing pushed by Mr Katz that could po­ten­tially have a re­gional im­pact: he has also been push­ing for an ar­ti­fi­cial is­land off the shore of Gaza for years.

Such an project, he ar­gues, could al­low the be­lea­guered Gaza Strip to have both a sea and air­port, as well as new en­ergy and de­sali­na­tion plants.

By be­ing de­tached from Gaza it­self, which re­mains un­der Ha­mas con­trol, the is­land could be se­cured by an in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity force, with cus­toms and se­cu­rity check­points on the bridge con­nect­ing it to Gaza City.

A se­nior of­fi­cial at the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice con­firmed Mr Ne­tanyahu was in­deed “in the loop on the projects” and that some form of prime min­is­te­rial en­dorse­ment could be ex­pected soon. Both plans were pre­sented two weeks ago to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the re­gion,

David Green­blatt, dur­ing his meet­ing with Mr Ne­tanyahu in Jerusalem.

How­ever, there re­main sig­nif­i­cant ob­sta­cles to the re­al­i­sa­tion of Mr Katz’s vi­sion. Se­nior Jor­da­nian of­fi­cials said last week there had been no con­tacts

be­tween them and the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment on the ini­tia­tive and a Pales­tinian of­fi­cial was sim­i­larly scep­ti­cal. Such an am­bi­tious cross-bor­der project may re­quire a peace process to be in place be­fore it gets off the ground.

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