Israel’s railway plan set to boost China’s trade in Middle East, Europe

Israel’s railway plan set to boost China’s trade in Middle East, Europe : When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited China last week, one of the items on his agenda was a railway line that could turn Israel into a land and sea bridge for Chinese exports to Europe.

The China-Israel initiative holds the potential to change the face of trade in the Middle East.

Dr Gedaliah Afterman, Fellow at Jewish People Policy Institute, said: “As far as expertise goes, the Chinese have been involved in many similar projects around the world.”

The plan is to build a 180-kilometre railway from Israel’s southern port in Eilat in the Red Sea to its Mediterranean ports in Ashdod and Haifa. From there, cargo can travel onwards to Europe.

Dr Afterman added: “As far as the Chinese interests in such a project, I think it’s both economic, but also strategic. I mean having a connection between the port of Eilat in the Red Sea and the port of Ashdod in the Mediterranean gives them access to both directions where they can move both energy resources and other cargo.”

The route will be far faster than boats reaching the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal. Now they will be able to by-pass the Suez Canal completely and dock in Eilat.

The railway is expected to increase trade from China, India and other Asian countries to Israel, while also reducing Tel Aviv’s dependence on a waterway controlled by her increasingly hostile neighbour.

One of the big concerns for Israelis is the deterioration in relations between Tel Aviv and Cairo, but by by-passing the Egyptian-controlled Suez Canal, Israelis no longer have to fear that if Cairo ever blocked the canal their economy would come to a standstill.

Dr Shalom Wald, Senior Fellow of the Jewish People Policy Institute, said: “Egypt is a mess. How long will it take for the mess to spill over into the Suez Canal? If the Suez Canal ever closes, it will be a catastrophe to trade and a blow to China also. A lot of Chinese trade goes through the Suez Canal also.”

The idea is not only for a cargo train, but also for one that transports people.

Ms Sivan Shahar lives in Eilat, but works in Tel Aviv. The lengthy commute sees her spending many hours on the road.

“It will be a great relief, it will be a great assistance for me because it will take about two and a half hours each way instead of four hours in a bus ot taking a flight which is always harder,” she said.

The proposed railway line is along a route used in ancient times by caravans from Arabia and India to Europe.

But it’s not without its problems

Dr Asaf Tsoer, ecologist at Southern District Nature and Park Authority of Israel, said: “We need to understand that this train passes through one of our biggest nature reserves in an area that we are protecting and fighting to protect for a very long time. It goes near the natural equators which can only be found in Israel and in Sinai, and they pass through a lot of archaeological sites.”

Construction is expected to take about five years to complete and will cost about US$4 billion.

There are plans to extend the railway to Jordan’s Aqaba port later.

This is all part of a plan for China to fast track trade into the Middle East and beyond.


Source : CNA

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