Long before US President Joe Biden's announcement of the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor, Israel was discussing the ambitious project with White House advisors. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is planning to meet Biden while he is in the US for the United Nations General Assembly summit this week, thanked the US president for his "great effort" leading to Saturday night's historic announcement.
Netanyahu said in a statement issued late Saturday night Israel time that the US approached Israel regarding "regarding the realization of this historic opportunity" and "held urgent diplomatic contacts in order to bring about today's breakthrough." he said. In fact, the idea was first floated by former Transportation Minister Israel Katz in April 2017. Katz's original idea - which he dubbed "railways for regional peace" - was to establish a railway to connect Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.
Former US President Donald Trump liked and adopted Katz's idea, even after Biden's election. Biden then expanded the railway to a so-called Economic Corridor which would reach India in the East to transfer energy, communication and more.
Israeli officials clarified that this project is unrelated to normalization with Saudi Arabia. The agreement between the US and the kingdom will take some time but there is no doubt that this project will greatly benefit Israel with goods passing through from Europe and the East.
The idea currently on the table also includes highways for trucks carrying goods which will drive between Israel and Saudi Arabia. According to US officials, this economic vision also will include the Palestinian Authority and later will incorporate tourism along the railway.
Netanyahu praised the Economic Corridor, saying that "Israel is at the focus of an unprecedented international project that will link infrastructure from Asia to Europe" and that Israel "will be a central junction in this economic corridor. Our railways and ports will open a new gateway from India, through the Middle East, to Europe, and back – from Europe to India via Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE."
He continued that: "Its vision reshapes the face of our region and allows a dream to become reality. The initiative includes the construction of railways, the laying of a hydrogen pipeline, the energy of the future, the laying of fiber optic communications cables, the laying of electricity cables and more infrastructure."
"The State of Israel will contribute its capabilities, all of its experience, momentum and commitment, to realize the largest cooperation project in our history," Netanyahu also said. "All government ministries will be instructed to join in realizing this dream. I have directed the National Security Council, in the Prime Minister's Office, to coordinate the staff work and also the close cooperation with the US and other countries in order for this vision to become reality as soon as possible."
What stands behind Biden's ambitious plan? Biden's plan is a response to Chinese expansion and growing influence in the region. The US predicts this project will stimulate economic development through bicontinental connectivity and economic integration and lead to sustainable economic growth.
"Along the railway route, participants intend to enable the laying of cable for electricity and digital connectivity, as well as pipe for clean hydrogen export. This corridor will secure regional supply chains, increase trade accessibility, improve trade facilitation, and support an increased emphasis on environmental social, and government impacts," the White House said in a statement.