Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday a $500 billion plan to create a business and industrial zone extending across its borders into Jordan and Egypt, the biggest project yet in a series of efforts to free the kingdom of its dependence on oil exports. Part of the proposal includes building a bridge over the Red Sea's straights of Tiran - an area which is controlled based on Israel's 1979 peace treaty with Egypt.
Bloomberg reported that as a result "Israel’s involvement in the project is crucial," says Yoram Meital, chairman of the Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies & Diplomacy at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
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“There couldn’t be anything close to this unless Israel and the Saudis had the opportunity to discuss in detail their relations and this bridge,” Meital said. “There have to have been back channels.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the project, according to Bloomberg.
The 26,500 square km (10,230 square mile) zone, known as NEOM, will focus on industries including energy and water, biotechnology, food, advanced manufacturing and entertainment, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said.
Adjacent to the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba and near maritime trade routes that use the Suez Canal, the zone will power itself solely with wind power and solar energy, said the Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia's top sovereign fund.
"NEOM is situated on one of the world’s most prominent economic arteries ... Its strategic location will also facilitate the zone’s rapid emergence as a global hub that connects Asia, Europe and Africa."
The Saudi government, the PIF, and local and international investors are expected to put more than half a trillion dollars into the zone in coming years, Prince Mohammed said.
There was no immediate comment on the plan from Jordan and Egypt, both of which are close allies of Saudi Arabia.