Creating new perspectives since 2009

Netanyahu’s delight at the IMEC project is probably premature

September 14, 2023 at 1:36 pm

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on July 2, 2023 [RONEN ZVULUN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emerged recently to celebrate the announcement by US President Joe Biden during the G20 summit in New Delhi, about the launch of the economic corridor project to connect India to the Middle East and Europe: the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC), as it is now known. The IMEC will extend by sea from India to the United Arab Emirates, then pass through Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel before reaching Europe. The project will also include a new submarine cable as well as energy infrastructure.

Netanyahu praised the project, despite the lack of details or a timeline, describing it as good news for Israel and claiming that it will be the largest cooperation project in Israel’s history that will change the face of the Middle East and benefit the entire world. He said that Israel will be a central junction along this economic corridor, and that the project will lead Israelis to a new, unique and unprecedented era of global and regional cooperation and involvement. Of course, this kind of discourse is common in Israel these days, as Israeli leaders try to attribute achievements to themselves and exploit the efforts of others for their own popularity on polling day.

The IMEC is neither realistic nor feasible for several reasons

However, the IMEC is neither realistic nor feasible for several reasons, the most important of which is that it has the potential to damage the interests of traditional powers in the Middle East, such as Iran, Turkey and Egypt. The project will bypass Egypt’s Suez Canal, which is the main source of income for the state. Egypt is in dire need of this income due to the difficult economic situation, and implementing the project will reduce this income significantly; Egypt, therefore, has no option but to reject the IMEC.

India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) [Yasin Demirci - Anadolu Agency]

India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) [Yasin Demirci – Anadolu Agency]

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not wait long to declare that there will be no such corridor without Turkiye, which is the most suitable route for east-west economic traffic between India, the Middle East, and Europe. Ankara views the project as an attempt to bypass this natural corridor between continents.

Iran will see the IMEC as a blow to the railway project between Iran and Iraq, which is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Historically, there was also the partnership between India, Iran and Russia to establish the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) in 2000, but it has been stalled for over two decades due to pressure from the US. Tehran has been attempting to revive it recently by transporting goods from the Russian port of Astrakhan through the Caspian Sea, the Iranian port of Anzali, and then by land to the Gulf, with the cargo then shipped on by sea to the Indian port of Nhava Sheva. Traditionally, Tehran has good relations with India and the American IMEC project would overshadow this positive relationship and push Iran closer to India’s rival, Pakistan.

READ: The new vision for economic collaboration with Iran will benefit Pakistan hugely

It is no secret that the real objective of the IMEC, from the US point of view, is to compete with China; to harm China’s interests and its Belt and Road Initiative, and to establish an economic and strategic defence system against China’s economic influence in the region. However, it is unlikely for the UAE and Saudi Arabia to take the risk of participating in the project and damaging their relations with countries such as Iran, Turkey and Egypt, as well as their strategic partner China, at a time they see the US role diminishing under the elderly Biden.

For Israel to be a partner in the IMEC, full normalisation with Saudi Arabia is necessary. Nothing was mentioned about any progress in this respect during the G20 summit. Moreover, India is trying not to be part of any bloc system at the same time that it is joining Biden’s campaign against China. Will India give up its projects in Iran and Russia to join the IMEC? Will it abandon the North-South corridor that connects Russia through Iran to India?

The announcement of this project is one thing, and its actual implementation is another. The initial objective is to keep the Israeli government afloat at a time of an unprecedented domestic crisis in the apartheid state. It is clear that the Biden administration, despite its opposition to Netanyahu, still acts as the foreign ministry of the Israeli government and pressures Arab and Islamic countries to have diplomatic relations with Israel, especially Saudi Arabia. Yet, while Israel declares that normalisation with Saudi Arabia is imminent, the US sees it as unlikely in the near future.

Israel’s extreme far-right Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich announced that there would be no concessions to the Palestinians, which is apparently one of the Saudi conditions for normalisation. Smotrich believes that the normalisation agreement should be between Israel and Saudi Arabia only, which is rejected by Riyadh. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia wants to be the last country to normalise with Israel, so it is highly likely that it will not make such a move before Pakistan and Indonesia.

READ: Is Saudi Arabia-Israel normalisation close, or still a long way off?

I believe, therefore, that it is unlikely that the IMEC project will see the light of day, and Netanyahu’s delight is misplaced. It also looks as if the issue of normalisation with Saudi Arabia, which holds tremendous strategic importance for Israel, is of secondary importance behind Washington’s main objective, which is the competition and confrontation with China.

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