IMEC And Saudi-Israel Relations: A Zero-Sum Game For US? – OpEd


The Middle East region has traditionally been characterized by complex web of geopolitical dynamics, foremost the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The corridor could be an opportunity for fostering economic cooperation and regional integration. The economic interdependence could create a new avenue for diplomatic dialogue and association between Riyadh and Jerusalem.

The India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) is an emerging geopolitical and economic initiative that seeks to enhance connectivity and to promote trade among the three regions. The corridor is expected to stimulate economic integration, technological advancement, and regional connectivity. IMEC, however, connecting India, the Middle East, and Europe, creates a vast network of potential partnerships that could reshape regional dynamics.

In September 2023, the vision was presented at the G20 summit held in New Delhi. The memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed by the US, India, UAE, Saudi Arabia, France, Italy, and Germany. The MoU further includes Jordan and Israel. An economic corridor would be comprised of two separate corridors: Firstly, the east corridor, which will connect India to the Arabian Gulf through sea routes; Secondly, the northern corridor, which will connect the Arabian Gulf to Europe through land and sea routes. It would add a railway that “would be providing a reliable and cost-effective cross-border ship-to-rail transit network to supplement existing maritime and road transport routes, enabling goods and services to transit to, from, and between India, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, and Europe,” the MoU stated.

Besides, the project would enable electricity and digital connectivity by laying cables, as well as promote clean hydrogen export through the pipes. According to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the train link will boost trade between India and Europe by 40%.  As per some stalemates, it will reduce the time of shipment by 40% as compare to Suez Canal and cut 30% cost. The MoU’s signatories are expected to meet within 60 days to reveal further details of a certain project.

Furthermore, this interconnectedness could lead to increased trade, investment, and business opportunities, which in turn fosters deeper regional integration. Certainly, economic cooperation has the potential to create common interests and build trust among nations, including both Arab and Israeli entities. It could further create a conducive environment for dialogue and diplomatic negotiations. While respecting concerns and sensitivities, a new vision could serve as a model for building bridges and fostering dialogue between Riyadh and Israel. These engagement helps to reduce trust deficit and enhance mutual understanding between nations. As the corridor progresses, it could potentially enable Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia and Israel, to forge stronger economic relations, leading to increased collaboration and the normalisation of ties. This, in turn, could potentially have a positive impact on wider regional stability and conflict resolution efforts.

In addition, this megaproject could ease Saudi-Israeli relations by connecting them via economic and trade cooperation. The agenda portrays Washington’s foreign policy to open diplomatic relations between Arab countries and Israel, particularly the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. As Biden mentioned, “the Middle East is no longer a source of conflict or crises as reflected in history until now.” It seems US President Joe Biden is striving to initiate diplomatic ties between KSA and Israel with the help of the IMEC project. However, the project will work if both nations shake hands. The project is not aimed at bringing Saudi Arabia and Israel closer, although the involvement of Israel in the project is significant, along with that of other Arab countries, because the Kingdom has no diplomatic ties with Israel that may engage states diplomatically.

Moreover, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the initiative carried by the US, Europe and Arab countries to promote trade, connectivity and cooperation, as he said, “It will change the face of the Middle East, the face of Israel, and would enable to grow the orbit entire world.” However, Israel is prepared to participate significantly in the IMEC since its relations with its neighbours are getting better. An agreement was inked by the UAE and Bahrain for the establishment of diplomatic ties in the presence of Donald Trump. Earlier, Israel established diplomatic relations with Egypt and Jordan. The IMEC, a Washington-backed project, would be a game-changer for Saudi-Israeli relations in the coming time. Washington desired to open diplomatic contact between the United Kingdom and Israel at the outset.

To illustrate, the success of IMEC is in the hands of Saudi, Israel and the US because the Kingdom does not have diplomatic ties with Israel, which will be a hurdle for the project. Earlier, Riyadh asked to Washington for security guarantee, reduce arms sales restrictions, and to help developing domestic civilian nuclear program in exchange for normalising ties with Jerusalem. However, the nuclear demand places the Biden administration in a tough position. For the reason that Washington has forbidden other regional countries from developing nuclear enrichment, such as Jordan and the UAE. And in the legal framework, Washington, along with twenty-three other countries, is a signatory of Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, which prohibits enrichment and reprocessing. So, at that point, Washington is too weak to praise Saudi’s pledge. Keeping the scenario at view, it raises questions about IMEC reality because, without diplomatic ties between KSA and Israel, it would not succeed. As experts say, Riyadh will never compromise on his demands because of its security issues in the region. At this position, there is a question mark over the triumph of IMEC. Let see the next step, Whether Riyadh turns over its civil nuclear program or Washington accepts the concerns as displayed.

Arguably, Is IMEC a zero-sum game for Washington to achieve its geopolitical and geostrategic goals? However, since IMEC is just a MoU among three regions, the credibility and implementation of the project remain unclear. The implementation of the project needs huge finance and technology to make it certain. The US and other G7 members proposed B3W (Build Back a Better World) in June 2021. B3W is a $40 trillion project, which is the largest modern investment project in world history. However, there is still no further development in the B3W project except paper work. So, it might be a political game for Washington to achieve its political goals in the Middle East by using IMEC as a political tool. For instance, to undermine China’s growing influence in the Middle East, establish diplomatic ties between the Kingdom and Israel, which hold significance for Washington because both nations are key allies in the region. Equally, it helps the Biden’s administration to get some points in the upcoming presidential elections. The Biden administration is striving to normalise Saudi-Israel diplomatic relations through IMEC by putting Riyadh’s nuclear concern aside. Washington is aware of the consequences of accepting the Saudi nuclear demand, the fact is that other regional countries would start demanding their nuclear programmes (UAE, Jordan, and Iran). Therefore, IMEC could be a political tool for Washington to achieve its interests in the region. 

In a nutshell, it is important to note that the impact of the IMEC on Saudi-Israel relations is contingent upon various factors, including political will, regional dynamics, and the progress of the corridor itself. Achieving meaningful progress in this regard would require active diplomacy, addressing core regional conflicts, and ensuring a comprehensive approach to regional integration and cooperation. 

Taimoor Shah

Taimoor Shah has a Bachelor Degree in International Relations from LUAWMS, and currently, pursuing his MS Degree in International Relations from International Islamic University Islamabad (IIUI). His areas of interest covers the World Politics and political and strategic affairs of Great Powers. You can reach him in [email protected]

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