Israel Proposes Freight Rail Link to Jordan, Saudi Arabia From Haifa

Transportation Minister Katz declines to say whether Arab states have agreed to plan

Under the proposal, goods could travel by rail from Israel’s Mediterranean port of Haifa through Jordan to Saudi Arabia’s Gulf port of Dammam.
Under the proposal, goods could travel by rail from Israel’s Mediterranean port of Haifa through Jordan to Saudi Arabia’s Gulf port of Dammam. Rami Shllush

Israel’s transportation minister on Wednesday proposed linking its freight railway network with Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and said he presented the idea to U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy last month.

Under the proposal, goods could travel by rail from Israel’s Mediterranean port of Haifa through Jordan to Saudi Arabia’s Gulf port of Dammam.

Minister Yisrael Katz declined to say whether Arab states had agreed to join his initiative.

After Syria’s civil war began in 2011, Israel opened its Haifa port as a conduit for goods coming from Turkey and Europe to be trucked to Arab countries further east. But traffic has been limited due to small capacity and political opposition.

Katz, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, said that Trump envoy Jason Greenblatt expressed enthusiasm for the plan when it was presented to him during his regional visit.

“I have already started working. ... I am in touch with very senior elements in the U.S. administration,” said Katz, who has said he intends to eventually succeed Netanyahu as Likud leader.

Katz said he did not believe a rail route would make a serious dent in the high volume of commercial traffic through Egypt’s Suez Canal linking the Mediterranean to the Red Sea.

Israel has set its sights on normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states that Israeli leaders say share Israel’s concerns about regional rival Iran.

Katz said his plan could also give the Palestinians far greater ability to export goods from the occupied West Bank to the Arab world. Palestinians say Israel’s control of that border has limited their trade prospects.

In outlining the plan for the rail network, Katz said only a short length of track was still needed to link Israel and the northern West Bank near a Jordan River crossing with Jordan.

“If the Palestinians connect to a railway system, the entire area will get a significant economic boost,” he said.

Jordanian officials were not immediately available for a comment on the proposal.

Katz, who has held the transportation portfolio under Netanyahu since 2009, has proposed building an island off the coast of the Gaza Strip that would house an airport and seaport to serve the Palestinians.