There is some talk about the ‘Ben Gurion Canal’ again as Israel pushes to destroy Hamas in Gaza.
- The idea is to cut a canal through the Israeli-controlled Negev Desert from the tip of the Gulf of Aqaba — the eastern arm of the Red Sea that juts into Israel’s southern tip and south-western Jordan — to the Eastern Mediterranean coast, thus creating an alternative to the Egyptian-controlled Suez Canal that starts from the western arm of the Red Sea and passes to the southeastern Mediterranean through the northern Sinai peninsula.
- This so-called Ben Gurion Canal Project, which was first envisioned in the 1960s would, if it were to be actually completed, transform global maritime dynamics by taking away Egypt’s monopoly over the shortest route between Europe and Asia.
What has stopped Israel from constructing the canal?
- First and foremost, such a project would be extremely complex and almost prohibitively expensive.
- The estimated cost of such a project may be as high as the $ 100 billion, much more than what it might take to widen the Suez Canal and solve its traffic problem.
- The risk of nuclear fallout makes this option extremely risky as well.
- The planned route of the Ben Gurion Canal is over 100 km longer than the Suez Canal, primarily due to limitations of the terrain and topography. Even if built, many ships might still favour the older, shorter route.
- Most importantly, however, a canal which will potentially transport billions of dollars worth of freight daily cannot run in land under constant military threat, from Hamas rockets or Israeli attacks.
Suez Canal’s salience
- When it opened in 1869, the Suez Canal revolutionised global maritime trade.
- By connecting the Mediterranean and Red Seas through the Isthmus of Suez, it ensured that ships travelling between Europe and Asia would not have to travel all the way around the continent of Africa.
- The canal cut the distance between London and Bombay (now Mumbai) by a more than 41 per cent.
- In the 2022-23 fiscal year, around 26,000 vessels crossed the Suez Canal, accounting for approximately 13 per cent of global shipping.
The canal, however, has its issues.
- First, the 193 km-long, 205 m-wide, and 24 m-deep Suez Canal is the world’s biggest shipping bottleneck.
- Despite being widened and deepened over the years, it remains perennially congested, with long queues at either end.
- The mammoth cargo ship Ever Given got stuck in the canal, blocking passage for more than a week. It was estimated that the resulting “traffic jam” held up an estimated $ 9.6 billion of goods every day.
- Also, Egypt’s control over the waterway has been a source of conflict for almost 70 years now.
- The Suez Crisis ended in a military victory for the aggressors but an overwhelming political victory for Egypt, which kept control over the canal, which was shut for more than six months due to the conflict.
- The Suez Canal was also the focal point of both the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars, and was shut from 1967-75.
- The canal is, of course, critical to Egypt’s economy. It collects all the toll revenue generated, in addition to the benefits it brings to its local economy.
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