Geography makes history. The India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC), announced at the G20 summit in India last week, has the potential to redraw the economic and political map of Eurasia. Israel’s Haifa port will be a key stage in the corridor.
The corridor will combine sea and rail routes. Its eastern corridor will connect India to the Middle East by sea from Mumbai to Jebel Ali in the UAE. Goods will then be shipped by rail and sea across the northern corridor, from UAE through Saudi Arabia to Amman in Jordan, and then Haifa. From Haifa, they will sail to the Greek port of Piraeus.
The goods moving through IMEC’s above-ground infrastructure will be complemented by a subterranean communications infrastructure. Since 2011, a fibre-optic cable, the Europe Indian Gateway, has linked Europe with the Arab states of the Middle East and India, as well as Egypt and Libya.
A new cable, the Trans Europe Asia System (TEAS), will also connect Europe to points east, but Israel will be a key stop on this information highway.
A ship carrying Jewish refugees of the Nazi persecution at Haifa in 1945 (Photo: Getty Images)
The TEAS cable will directly connect Israel with the Abraham Accords states of UAE and Bahrain, but also with Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. An Israeli investment fund, Keystone, has a 25 per cent stake in the TEAS. Navot Bar, Keystone’s CEO, says its partners include “former senior officers in the US Army, British investors and investors from the Gulf states and Israel”.
None of this could have happened without the Abraham Accords, which Joe Biden is bent on expanding to include Saudi Arabia. Neither the accords nor this vision of a new Eurasian infrastructure could have happened without the support of Saudi Arabia, and in particular its leader, Mohammed bin Salman.
Benjamin Netanyahu calls IMEC the biggest international project in Israel’s history, and the opening of a “new era of regional and global integration and cooperation, unprecedented and unique in its scope”.
This is the truth — providing IMEC gets built, and stays in operation. Israel abounds in ruins. They include rusting piers and railway tracks, the remains of earlier efforts at regional and cross-regional integration.
After 1917, the British Empire took over the Ottoman-built Hejaz railway, which linked Damascus to Medina, with a branch line to Haifa. In the 1930s, the British built an oil pipeline linking Kirkuk in Iraq to Haifa, which became a key energy and transportation hub for Britain in the Second World War. In 1957, Israel built the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline to carry Iranian oil to Europe.
IMEC represents a return to the historical norm. The postcolonial era shattered Middle Eastern empires into states. The ideological obsessions of the age (socialism, Arab nationalism and Islamism in particular) severed the imperial networks. The return to sanity began after the collapse of the Soviet Union, with India’s turn to a market economy. The Abraham Accords mark a similar shift in the global strategy of the Gulf states.
IMEC is an alternative to China’s Belt and Road initiative, carrying Indian exports rather than Chinese exports. But the two networks overlap. The port at Piraeus is Chinese-owned, and Chinese and Indian companies are competing to invest across the Middle East.
In September 2021, the Shanghai International Port Group opened a massive terminal at Haifa. The Belt and Road initiative cannot tap into Middle Eastern markets without a western-facing port, and the Abraham Accords made that possible. Last January, however, Israel sold a 70 per cent stake in the Haifa port to the Indian company Adani.
A few tentative conclusions:
- First, Netanyahu’s vision of the regional future is, yet again, being vindicated over the US-sponsored Shimon Peres-Oslo vision. In a region of autocrats, you can decouple politics from economics.
- Second, the Palestinians have lost their veto over the growth of the Indo-Abrahamic bloc. As ever, they can blow things up, but they cannot stop it. Much the same goes for the sick psychodrama of the western left’s anti-Zionism.
- Third, what about Iran and Turkey? These two regional powers are not in IMEC but are nevertheless economically integrated with India and the Gulf, and, in Turkey’s case, with Israel.
- Finally, if US-China tensions continue to worsen, Israel will struggle to maintain its balancing act. I suspect that, inevitably, geography will win out and Israel will tip towards Asia, where it will then struggle to balance its relations with India and China. The first goal of Zionism, self-determination, depended on integration, first into the British Empire, then into the US-led alliances of the Cold War, and now into the emerging infrastructure of west Asia. Right now, we’re focused on politics and economics, but it will transform all aspects of Jewish civilisation.