Israel Presents Oman with Rail Plan Linking Gulf to Jewish State

In this Tuesday, March 7, 2017 photo, Israel's transportation and intelligence minister Yisrael Katz speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, in his office in Tel Aviv, Israel. Katz said that he is pushing forward with a proposal to build an artificial island with a seaport off the coast …
AP/Dan Balilty
DEBORAH DANAN

TEL AVIV – Israeli Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz traveled to Oman overnight Sunday to present a plan to his Omani counterpart that includes a rail link between Israel and the Gulf.

“This is a historical visit that will improve relations” between Israel and the Sultanate, Katz said prior to his departure.

“I intend to present and promote our mutual initiative ‘Tracks for Regional Peace’ to connect the Gulf states to Israel and the Mediterranean sea,” he added.

Although Israel has no formal ties with any of the Gulf states, they share a mutual concern over Iran’s hegemonic ambitions as well as its nuclear program.

The plan will create an axis that will bypass Iran, Katz said, describing it as “normalization through strength.”

Katz is slated to take part in an international transportation conference in Muscat, marking the first time an Israeli representative has been invited in an official capacity to such a conference.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Oman last month and met with Sultan Qaboos bin Said.

The trip was “a significant step in implementing the policy outlined by Prime Minister Netanyahu on deepening relations with the states of the region while leveraging Israel’s advantages in security, technology and economic matters,” his office said.

President Donald Trump is said to support the “Tracks” project, which could link Haifa’s seaport to Jordanian railways and from there to the Gulf states. The aim is to create a new trade route that would promote coexistence by connecting Europe with the Persian Gulf and Israel.

“There are two central components at the heart of this initiative,” Katz said about the plan in April. “Israel as a land bridge between Europe and the Mediterranean and Jordan; and Jordan as a regional transportation hub, which will be connected to a railroad system to Israel and the Mediterranean in the West; to Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and Iraq in the East and southeast; and to the Red Sea, through Aqaba and Eilat, in the south.”

“Beyond its contribution to Israel’s economy, the Jordanian and the Palestinian economies, the initiative will connect Israel economically and politically to the region and will consolidate the pragmatic camp in the region,” he added.

Last year, Katz told Saudi news website Elaph that he wants to revive the historic Hejaz railway.

“As you can see, this regional project will link trains to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates,” he said.

He added that the project would promote regional stability by connecting Israelis and Palestinians with the Sunni Arab world. The railway is set to have a station in the West Bank city of Jenin.

The project is billed as significantly cutting the distance of existing trade routes, as well as decreasing costs and danger.

The initiative is said to also offer shorter, cheaper and safer trade routes in light of regional instability threatening passageways through the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf and the Bab al-Mandab Strait at the southern end of the Red Sea.

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