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Israel is taking advantage of the Suez Canal accident to push its alternatives

April 8, 2021 at 3:32 pm

The Floatation Works of the Grounding Vessel in the Suez Canal on 25 March 2021 [Suez Canal Media Center]

There has been a lot of anxiety due to the closure of the Suez Canal caused by the giant container ship MV Ever Given running aground and blocking the waterway, leaving up to 400 other vessels in a queue to pass through. The cost to global trade has been put at billions of dollars. In turn, Egypt has lost several million dollars each day in terms of lost tolls. The canal gives geopolitical importance to Egypt and its role in the region and the world. The incident has affected the canal’s reputation as one of the world’s prime waterways through which 13 per cent of international trade flows.

Efforts to refloat the ship topped the news bulletins all over the world. As well as talks about alternative routes — the option of sailing via the Cape of Good Hope in Southern Africa was used while the canal was blocked — old plans were taken down off the shelf.

The Suez Canal was a major feat of nineteenth century engineering completed in 1869 which cut the sailing time from Europe to far-flung parts of various empires, notably Britain’s. The chief engineer was Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps. France and Britain controlled the canal until Egypt’s late President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalised it, prompting the “Suez Crisis” in 1956, when France, Britain and Israel invaded and occupied the zone.

Egyptians have conflicting feelings about the canal. Their ancestors were humiliated into forced labour to dig the channel, during which many died. There was, therefore, immense pride when Nasser announced the canal’s nationalisation on 26 July 1956. A third world country challenged two of the world’s colonial powers, France and Britain, at the core of their strategic interests in the Middle East. Oil from the region, of course, reaches Europe through the Suez Canal.

When the Ever Given was blocking the canal, the people of Egypt were united in their concerns about its future. There was collective joy when the ship was refloated.

The reason for it running aground remains a mystery. This has provided conspiracy theorists with an opportunity to claim that it was not caused by high winds or an accident. It is claimed that it was deliberate, as part of an effort to demonstrate that the Suez Canal is a weak link in the global distribution chain.

READ: Russia’s alternative to the Suez Canal is the Northern Sea Route in Arctic waters

Coincidentally or not, it happened at a time when there are three plans for Israel to link the Gulf of Aqaba to the Mediterranean Sea: the Ben Gurion Canal; a railway line; and an oil pipeline. These are nothing new; they have been planned since the establishment of the Zionist entity in 1948, as mentioned by former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Perez in his 1993 book The New Middle East. Current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also mentioned them when he was Minister of Finance about twenty years ago.

When Egypt ceded the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia in 2016, the Straits of Tiran became an important international sea passage between the Red Sae and the Gulf of Aqaba. As soon as the Suez Canal was blocked by the stricken Ever Given, Israel started to promote its canal project to bypass Suez and be cheaper. Better facilities and services have already been promised. According to an Israeli announcement made, conveniently, when the Suez Canal was blocked, the alternative canal will be ready in five years.

The Suez Canal Authority announced the success of efforts to refloat the stranded massive container ship and reopen the canal to maritime traffic [Zeynep Öztürk/Anadolu Agency]

The Suez Canal Authority announced the success of efforts to re-float the stranded massive container ship and reopen the canal to maritime traffic [Zeynep Öztürk/Anadolu Agency]

After the UAE announced its normalisation with Israel last year, it signed an agreement to send oil to Europe via a pipeline linking the Israeli port of Eilat on the Gulf of Aqaba to occupied Ashkelon on the Mediterranean coast, where it would be loaded onto Europe-bound tankers. That would have a serious effect on Egypt’s Sumed pipeline, which has been used for the same purpose for half a century.

The Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline was built by the Zionists in the 1960s and was used secretly during the time of the Shah for Iranian oil. This stopped after the Iranian revolution. It has been brought back into service post-normalisation with the UAE.

READ: Egypt: $1bn in initial losses caused by Suez Canal blockage

The Dubai Ports Authority has also signed an agreement with the occupation state to open a regular, direct shipping route to Eilat. This will give a boost to the railway project that has been in the making since 2014, linking the port with Ashdod. The railway is about 300 kilometres in length, and has five tunnels and more than 63 bridges. It is expected to be completed next year.

Other projects which could affect the Suez Canal include the so-called “Peace Train”, announced by Netanyahu in 2018 to run from the Gulf countries to Haifa in occupied Palestine. There are also talks going on behind closed doors to build a pipeline through Saudi Arabia to export Gulf oil to Europe through Israel. This would be a revival of the Tapline, destroyed by Israel when it occupied the Syrian Golan Heights in 1967. There is also a proposed canal project linking the Dead Sea with the Red Sea.

The Ever Given accident was not necessarily part of a conspiracy, but Israel has certainly used it to its advantage to announce its plans and start to implement them. This illustrates clearly the way that the Zionists’ minds work; they have no problem about turning their backs on their oldest Arab ally in Cairo to do deals with new allies in the Gulf. Whichever way they are implemented, Israel’s plans are all too often facilitated in cahoots with Arab rulers.

The Suez Canal crisis - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

The Suez Canal crisis – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.