Dr Mohammad Makram Balawi
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.
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.
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.