An official from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has confirmed to Al-Monitor that work has begun on a trade corridor project connecting the country to Saudi Arabia, and that it will operate even if diplomatic ties between the two countries are not officially normalized.
Ynet reported on July 7 that Israel and the United States were working on a plan to establish a continuous trade land bridge connecting Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, leading from the Persian Gulf straight to Israel's seaports. The outlet cited senior Israeli officials, but until now there had been no official word on the project.
Israel Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lior Haiat confirmed that the government was working on the project, which will start in the UAE, pass through Saudi Arabia and then end in the seaports of Israel. It is planned to later expand to Bahrain and Oman, Ynet reported.
“We're working on it. We do not have a deadline for completion,” Haiat told Al-Monitor, adding that it could be completed by the end of the year.
There have been a series of reports suggesting that Israel and Saudi Arabia are slowly inching closer to restoring ties, three years after Israel signed the Abraham Accords with several Gulf states. Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen told Al-Monitor in May that the two countries could reach a breakthrough by the end of the year.
“This project can work even without official normalization (the same way the flights over Saudi Arabia work),” Haiat added.
Although Saudi Arabia is not a party to the Abraham Accords, since the agreement was signed in 2020, the kingdom has allowed Israeli airlines to use its airspace for flights to and from the UAE and Bahrain. Authorization for flights extending to other destinations was not granted until July 2022.
The planned land bridge route will facilitate the transfer of goods in trucks between the countries and is expected to facilitate trade for the entire region. It will also enable tourist movement.
Asked how much trade the planned corridor is likely to facilitate each year, Haiat said, “This can make the trade between the Arabian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea faster and cheaper.”
Al-Monitor has contacted the Saudi Arabian Foreign Ministry and US State Department for comment.
Currently, trucks transporting goods between Israel and the Gulf can cross the Allenby Bridge that links the West Bank city of Jericho to Jordan, but they face lengthy wait times due to bureaucratic procedures such as driver charges and paperwork. Goods can also be shipped through the Suez Canal and then to European ports, which also is expensive.
Ynet reported that the new trade bridge could save up to 20% in shipping costs and speed up trade to two or three days from several weeks, citing a study conducted by the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the US government.