One of the most exciting practical implications of the Abraham Accords is connecting the Arab oil-producing states on the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean via Israel. With many possible solutions achieved by either canal, pipeline, rail, or shipping, the plan would dramatically shorten the time and cost of shipping oil while routing the shipping away from any threat by Iran.
Canal From UAE to Israel
Al-Araby al-Jadeed (The New Arab) online newspaper reported on Friday that plans for Israel and the UAE to cooperate in digging a canal between the two countries, connecting the Mediterranean and the Red Sea are a source of consternation from the Egyptian government. Currently, the only route connecting the two seas is the Suez Canal. Approximately 10% of the global trade volume passes through the Suez Canal, making it one of the largest sources of income for Egypt. The canal would reportedly link Dubai’s Jebel Ali Port on the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea at Eilat.
The Suez Canal is 120 miles long. Eilat is over 1000 miles from the Persian Gulf and over 1,600 miles from the Jebel Ali Port. Though this seems excessive, the maritime route connecting Jebel Ali Port to the Suez Canal is 3,500 miles and requires approximately 12 days.
Middle East Eye reported that Egypt has turned to Saudi Arabia. A canal would necessarily pass through Saudi Arabia and possibly Jordan, Qatar, and Bahrain as well.
Shipping and Rail Routes
One of the results of the Abraham Accords normalization agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates was an agreement signed between the Dubai state-owned DP World and Israel’s DoverTower to develop Israeli ports and free zones and to open a direct shipping line between Dubai’s Jebel Ali Port and Eilat.
Wael Kaddoura, a maritime transport expert and former member of the Board of Directors of the Suez Canal Authority (SCA), explained the impact of these agreements in an interview with Al-Monitor:
“Most of the exports of the Gulf countries are petroleum products,” Kaddoura said. “A shipping line connecting the port of Eilat in the Red Sea and the port of Ashkelon in the Mediterranean would create competition [for Egypt] in the transportation of oil from the Gulf to Europe without the need to pass through the Suez Canal, which is seen as the first challenge. Noteworthy, 17% of the canal’s revenues come from oil tankers.”
The new shipping route is only possible because Egypt ceded Tiran and Sanafir, two Red Sea islands, to Saudi Arabia in 2017. The transfer of sovereignty means ships would be able to pass through the Red Sea to the Mediterranean without bypassing Egyptian waters.
Kaddoura noted that the currently existing rail line connecting Eilat on the Red Sae to Haifa on the Mediterranean could be extended eastward via Jordan.
The projects would be lucrative because of the high cost of transiting the Suez Canal. The canal is also limited in size. Supertankers docking in Israeli ports have a capacity of double the size of oil tankers that can fit through the canal. Known as VLCCs, or very large crude carriers, the ships can transport as much as 2 million barrels of petroleum. The 150-year-old Suez Canal is only deep and wide enough to handle so-called Suezmax vessels, with just half the capacity of a VLCC. One-way passage through the Suez Canal for a single Suezmax can cost $300-400,000.
Israel Pipeline Connecting the Arab Gulf States to the World
Even should these maritime solutions not materialize, Israel is seeking help from the UAE in promoting the construction of a land pipeline between Saudi Arabia and Israel for oil and distillates. The plan would involve extending the Ashkelon – Eilat pipeline 700 kilometers southeast to the Yanbu oil refineries in Saudi Arabia. Such a pipeline could go overland or under water in the Red Sea,The oil would them be shipped from Israeli ports on the Mediterranean coast to Europe and North America. The plan would incorporate the existing infrastructure of the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Co. Ltd. The 158-mile pipeline from Eilat to Haifa was constructed in 1959 in the wake of the 1956 Suez crisis to transport crude oil from pre-revolution Iran to Europe.
Rerouting Away From Iran
One of the motivating factors behind the Abraham Accords was to create a united from against Iran and its regional expansionism. One of the key weapons in Iran’s arsenal is its threat to the Hormuz Strait between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. It provides the only sea passage from the Persian Gulf to the open ocean and is one of the world’s most strategically important choke points.
The Strait of Hormuz is a vital shipping route linking Middle East oil producers to markets in Asia, Europe, and North America. It has been the focus of regional tensions for decades. 21 miles wide at its narrowest point, the shipping lane is just two miles wide in either direction and is highly susceptible to attack. About one-fifth of the entire global consumption of oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz. It is also the route used for nearly all the liquefied natural gas (LNG) produced by the world’s biggest LNG exporter, Qatar.