The Land and Sea Blockade Against Israel is Working as Israel Takes a Strategic Hit

By Ahmed Alqarout, published on Mondoweiss, May 4, 2024

Netanyahu’s plans to turn Israel into a regional transportation hub connecting Asia with Europe has just suffered a major setback. The reason is the maritime and land blockade against Israel in response to its genocide in Gaza.

Israel’s aspirations to become the region’s transportation hub have taken a hit. The maritime and land blockade against Israel to stop the genocide in Gaza is working, as one of Israel’s main plans for a prospective “land bridge” connecting the Gulf countries with Israel and Europe has suffered an irrevocable setback.

The Israel-centered India Middle East Europe Economic Corridors project (IMEC), which was first proposed by U.S. President Biden in September of last year during the G20 meetings, is facing an existential threat. The IMEC aims to connect Asia and Europe via a system of railways and ports that pass through India, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, and Greece.

The most recent blow to the IMEC project came last week when the UAE signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Turkey, Iraq, and Qatar to fund the IMEC’s rival, the Development Road Project, which offers alternative railway and highway routes for shipping between Asia and Europe through Iraq to boost local, regional, and international trade. This development signals waning international confidence in Israel’s ability to secure IMEC’s future, especially in light of the genocide in Gaza.

Moreover, the maritime blockades in the Red and Mediterranean Seas, along with the land blockade in Jordan, have raised doubts about the viability of Israel as an efficient and reliable transportation hub. The cost of the genocide in Palestine on Israel is now having strategic ramifications that undermine Israel’s future economic prospects.

‘Development Road’ vs. IMEC

In May 2023, Iraq launched the Development Road Project to link the Grand Faw Port in Iraq’s oil-rich south to Turkey via railways and roads, with the objective of transforming Iraq into a major transportation hub in the region. The project aims to shorten the travel time between Asia and Europe, positioning it as a rival to the Suez Canal. The Iraqi government plans to use high-speed trains for the efficient transport of goods and passengers to industrial hubs, while another part of the project includes the construction of oil and gas pipelines.

The Grand Faw Port is currently halfway done, and the entire project is expected to be completed within five years once the funding is secured.

Three months after the May 2023 announcement, Israel proposed the IMEC as a rival to this project, envisioning it as a new regional transportation hub in collaboration with its strategic Gulf partner as part of the Abraham Accords — the UAE.

The project was presented as the cornerstone of a “New Middle East” following the prospective normalization of relations between Israel and several countries in the Arab Gulf, including Saudi Arabia.

A few months after Netanyahu flaunted the map of this “New Middle East,” in which Palestine was effectively erased, October 7 and the Israeli genocide that followed threw everything into disarray. Yemen’s Ansar Allah (commonly known as “the Houthis”) imposed a maritime blockade on Israeli shipping in the Red Sea in response to the Gaza genocide, while protests in Jordan sought to block land transportation from the Gulf to Israel. The Iraqi Islamic Resistance also initiated a limited blockade in the Mediterranean Sea.

These blockades have cast doubts among international actors regarding the future viability of the IMEC project, especially given the increasing international perception of Israel as a rogue state — even as it continues to receive American diplomatic, financial, and military backing. This lack of confidence alone has prompted countries and investors to consider the Development Road as an alternative to IMEC. If not representing a strategic realignment, this new development is at the very least a form of hedging on the part of various state actors.

Abraham Accords 2.0′? 

Turkey and the UAE, both parties to the Abraham Accords, along with Iraq and Qatar — who are not part of the Accords but maintain strategic ties with the U.S. — are now all collaborating on the Development Road Project. While it might appear that Israel’s exclusion from regional connectivity plans undermines the U.S.-led Abraham Accords, this recent move does not necessarily sound the Accords’ death knell. The adoption of the Development Road could be seen as a hedging strategy by the U.S. and other countries who are party to the Accords in anticipation of a scenario where Israel becomes internationally isolated due to its continued genocide in Palestine. Moreover, there is now an increasing likelihood that some countries will impose economic sanctions on Israel. Only recently, Turkey announced that it would halt trade with Israel until a Gaza ceasefire is reached, and more sanctions are expected to be imposed if Israel continues down its genocidal path.

At the same time, Turkey and the UAE have been strengthening their relationships with one another under the rubric of the Abraham Accords, which includes a strategic trade partnership that both countries formed last year. Qatar and the UAE, after years of diplomatic tensions, are also mending ties, and their cooperation on this project could solidify their relationship under the U.S. security umbrella. Iraq, unique among the Development Road countries for its direct attacks on Israel, appears to be motivated by economic interests — namely, to undermine IMEC and boost its own alternative project.

After two decades of conflict, Iraq is positioning itself as a strategic U.S. ally, potentially linking itself indirectly to Israel through an “Abraham Accords 2.0” framework while eschewing direct connections with the country. Saudi Arabia has previously expressed interest in joining the project, and its existing trade links with the UAE make it a tacit partner by mere association.

Iran and Kuwait arise as the main opponents of this project, which undermines their trade and excludes them. In an expression of opposition to the project, Iran-backed militants have attacked the Khor Mor gas field in Iraq’s Kurdistan region with a deadly drone attack. The attack highlights the fragility of such a project for security risks and the need to reach broader security arrangements for it to become possible.

While not participating in the Development Road, Lebanon is proposing that Beirut Port become part of the IMEC due to Haifa Port’s unfeasibility as a result of the continuing maritime blockade.

This development confirms that regional actors are preparing for a post-Israel Middle East in which Israel is no longer a major player. Consequently, an alternative to the Abraham Accords is being envisioned, allowing the U.S. to construct a regional security and economic arrangement without direct Israeli involvement. This regional pivot away from Israel represents an undeniable strategic loss for the Jewish State.

While Israel continues its genocide in Palestine, it is incurring strategic losses in exchange for tactical gains. Resistance efforts have strategically distracted Israel, causing it to deviate from a path that could have ensured a significant role in the region’s future. Now the Arab countries party to the Abraham Accords are reorganizing economic alliances.

*Featured Image: The Development Road Project is a rival to the Israel-centered IMEC. Turkey, the UAE, and Iraq just signed on to it. (Photo: Social Media/X) 

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