It has long been held that during the coming decades, competition for ever-diminishing water supplies would be the main trigger for regional wars in the Middle East. However, a proposed 30 mile-long bridge linking Saudi Arabia and Egypt, is a likely cause for more imminent military confrontation.
First proposed back in the 1980s, the King Abdullah Bridge was quickly shelved by deposed Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. But last week, the Saudi Binladen Group announced it was willing to fund the $3 billion project, in partnership with Egypt’s state-owned construction giant Arab Contractors.
That it now seems like a done deal is ringing alarm bells in Israel, which has long considered the construction of the bridge as tantamount to a declaration of war.
Stretching from the northwestern Saudi garrison city of Tabuk to Egypt’s coastal resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, the bridge would pass over the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba. That means it could contravene a clause in the Egypt-Israeli peace treaty, which states that the Strait of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba must remain unimpeded at all times to all international shipping.
The bridge would indeed pose an unprecedented strategic threat to the Jewish state: at the push of a button, navigation could be cut off to the crucial Israeli port of Eilat.
The Bin Ladens, speaking at a pan-Arab economic conference in Riyadh, conceded that the project’s go-ahead remains dependent on the “political will” on the part of both Egypt and Saudi Arabia. A spokesman for Egypt’s Islamist President Mohamed Morsi quickly reassured reporters in Cairo that the bridge was now once again feasible precisely because of such newfound “mutual political will” — while in Riyadh, the House of Saud was proclaiming its “full support” for Egypt’s new Islamist dictatorship.
It is not only Israel that should be concerned.
As with the proposed King Abdullah Bridge, the causeway linking Saudi Arabia and Bahrain was constructed under the guise of facilitating the Haj pilgrimage and boosting bilateral trade. But the real, military reason for its construction was demonstrated in March 2011, when Saudi tanks rolled over it to help its neighbouring minority Sunni rulers put down a Shia-led uprising.
Moreover, the entrenched dictatorships of Saudi Arabia and Qatar (the latter is also busy constructing a bridge linking it to Bahrain) are already filling Egypt’s coffers with soft loans. They have hijacked the uprisings in Bahrain, Tunisia, Yemen and Syria in a bid to install their Islamist proxies there, too. They are even pushing for Jordan and Morocco to join their Gulf Co-operation Council.
A nightmare scenario, then, looms on the horizon — a sort of Greater Wahhabi Kingdom stretching from the borders of Israel to the Atlantic. And with that in mind, Washington should bring whatever diplomatic leverage it still has in the region to persuade Egypt and Saudi Arabia to cancel this proposed monstrosity.