Alternate Suez Canal (The Israeli Ben Gurion Canal) – OpEd

Heard of the Alternate Suez Canal? Here is the West’s dream project the proposed ‘Ben Gurion Canal’ or the Israeli Canal project. It is no new revelation; In July 1963, the US Department of Energy and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory created a classified document that outlined a plan to use 520 buried nuclear explosions to help in the excavation process through the hills in the Negev Desert. The document was declassified in 1993. 

The project would connect the Gulf of Aqaba to the Mediterranean Sea. David Ben Gurian after whom it would be named, is considered the Founding Father of Israel and was the first Prime Minister Israel. The canal would rival the Suez Canal that runs through Egypt, which has had many disturbances in its history, such as the closure of the Suez Canal (1956-1957 and from 1967-1975) and the blockage due to a large sized ship capsizing in 2021. It would be almost one third longer than the Suez Canal (194 km) meaning almost 300 km. The cost of creating the Israeli canal is estimated to be between $16 – $55 billion.

The capsizing of the cargo ship in the Suez Canal for more than six days and failing to float the ship was not the news, or the reasons behind the accident. But the real news behind it was the need to revive the “Ben-Gurion Canal” project. It is clear now who is the main beneficiary of this calamity, which hit one of the most important global navigation points, namely the Suez Canal. The Suez Canal is an essential maritime chokepoint, and the longer passage is suspended, the more impact it will have on civilian and military transits.

The proposed canal starts from the Southern end at the Gulf of Aqaba, by the port city of Eilat in Israel on the Israeli and Jordanian border, through the Arabah Valley for about 100 km between the Negev Mountains and the Jordanian highlands and veers West before the Dead Sea basin which is 1,412 ft below sea level and heads through a valley in the Negev Mountain Range then heads North again to get around the Gaza Strip and link up with the Mediterranean Sea.

Maritime Trade Dominance

The Israeli Ben Gurion Canal would represent more than just an artificial infrastructural marvel but would be a major shift in global maritime trade dynamics. Significantly broader than the Suez Canal, its design intends to usher in a new age of maritime efficiency, accommodating an increased volume of ships because it would be built on hardier terrain than the sand in the Suez, the canal will permit a two-way traffic, allowing vessels to transit in both directions concurrently. This project isn’t just a logistical enhancement; it is to be a profound assertion of Israel’s intention to become the fulcrum of global maritime commerce.

Speculations have swirled regarding Israel’s motives behind the West’s and Israel’s deeper narrative potential. It would directly be contesting the Suez Canal’s longstanding dominance; the stage is set for Western powers to wrestle financial and geopolitical control from Egypt. The Suez Canal set a new record with annual revenue of $9.4 billion in for the fiscal that ended June 30, 2023. This shift isn’t merely about diversifying revenue streams; it’s an overt strategy to re-orient the balance of power as well. 

A canal closer to the Egyptian border would offer unparalleled military advantages of a defensive canal obstacle, fortifying Israel’s defenses and providing a buffer against potential threats from the south. Such a strategic edge in a volatile region could reshape the balance of power.

Urgency Of The Israeli Ben Gurion Canal

  • The project is driven by the need to restrain the rise of the economic power of China, and to hold back its ongoing project “One Road, One Belt”. The Chinese project aims to build a train line that starts from the provinces of China in the west towards West Asia and secure water routes around the world.
  • The US is trying to hamper the Chinese trade route by creating an alternative route to compete with. So, the new stage of struggle will witness an economic war aiming to control seaports and global trade routes.

Challenges to the Construction

  • Opposition from the Arab nations led by Egypt as its revenue from the Suez Canal is estimated to be 8 billion dollars. Once Ben-Gurion is activated it will drop into 4 billion dollars.
  • The construction of the Ben-Gurion Canal may take several years involving about and 300,000 engineers and technicians who will be recruited from around the world
  • The projected canal will traverse through a varied configuration of terrains like desert, mountainous and the dead sea basin which is below sea level.
  • Underground nuclear explosions are likely to receive opposition.
  • Egypt may decide to widen the Suez Canal at a third of the cost proposed by Israel.

Haifa Port

Traditionally trade between India and Europe have relied heavily on the Suez Canal. After the acquisition of the Haifa Port, Israel’s second largest port, by a consortium led by India’s Adani Group, it is being transformed into a world-class facility that can be an alternative route, besides challenging China’s growing footprint in the region. Ron Malka, Israel’s former envoy to India, the executive chairman of the Haifa Port Company says the goal is to develop the Haifa Port as a true gateway connecting the East to West. 

The Ben Gurion Canal will give Israel in particular and other friendly nations the freedom from blackmail arising out of access to the Suez Canal. Arab states have been leveraging the Red Sea to pressure Israel and in response, Israel has decided to gain more control of the Red Sea. These African countries have cultural and economic affinities with the Arab states. One of the main military benefits for Israel is that it gives Israel the strategic options as the Ben Gurion Canal will totally take away the importance of Suez for the US military if needed in the aid for Israel.

Israel aims to push Egypt further into a corner by eliminating Suez in the global trade and energy corridor and becoming a global trade and energy logistics center.Experts are of the opinion that this situation will shake the strategic-energy balance of China’s Belt and Road Project initiative in the Mediterranean, along with the Strait of Hormuz, which is the transfer point of 30 percent of the world’s energy. The Ben Gurion Canal would have the solid backing of the West.