U.S. President Joe Biden announced the signing of deal for an ambitious joint rail and shipping project with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday.
The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to link India to Europe via the Middle East, including Israel, was announced on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi and is widely seen as a challenge to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a massive project to promote Chinese interests through infrastructure development.
Following the announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it “a day of major news for all citizens of Israel.”
Netanyahu thanked Biden “for the great effort that brought us to this historic announcement.”
“I would like to thank U.S. President Biden and his administration for the major effort that has led us to today's historic announcement,” Netanyahu said.
“Several months ago, the U.S. contacted us regarding the realization of this historic opportunity. Since then, it has held urgent diplomatic contacts in order to bring about today's breakthrough.”
The prime minister also said the agreement will make Israel the center of the trade agreement.
“Our country Israel will be a central junction in this economic corridor, our railways and our ports will open a new gateway from India through the Middle East to Europe, and back.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, this evening:— Prime Minister of Israel (@IsraeliPM) September 9, 2023
"Israel is at the focus of an unprecedented international project that will link infrastructure from Asia to Europe." pic.twitter.com/l5yQVdvDOc
U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the project was birthed during discussions after Biden’s trip to the Saudi Kingdom in July of 2022, at which time Biden had called for greater regional cooperation.
Sullivan also said the U.S. hoped to use the project as part of a deal with Jeddah to normalize relations with Israel.
The Middle East train line is designed to run from ports in the United Arab Emirates, through Saudi Arabia, into Jordan, and end in Israeli ports. The cargo would then be loaded onto ships bound for Greece.
The proposed project, using Israel as a link, would reportedly speed transport times by 40%, cutting out the current shipping bottleneck through the Suez Canal.
According to the Axios media outlet, the original idea for the rail portion of the agreement was first discussed during the I2U2 (India, Israel, the UAE and the U.S.) forum in 2021. Israel had suggested the idea of connecting the region through railways, with India providing expertise on the massive infrastructure project.
Netanyahu appeared to confirm this, saying the new trade corridor “will bring to fruition a years-long vision that will change the face of the Middle East and of Israel.”
The Biden administration added the idea to its own regional development efforts.
Following the announcement, Biden hailed the project as “a really big deal.”
Sullivan cautioned against seeing the MoU as a precursor to an announcement of normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel, however, he did say Israel’s inclusion in the deal is “significant.”
“The participants in this effort are focused on practical outcomes that deliver for their people," Sullivan said. "And a corridor of this kind by dint of geography works best having Israel in as opposed to out and the countries participating prioritized that.”
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.