Jerusalem: Israel on Sunday approved the construction of the first rail link between its Mediterranean and Red Sea coasts, offering a new Asia-Europe trade route to compete with the Suez Canal, a project in which India is also said to have evinced interest.
The so called proposal for Red-Med train link was unanimously approved by the Israeli cabinet and its construction is likely to take about 5 years from the time of start at a cost of approximately $2.3 billion.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initiating the discussion on the subject more than a week ago, said that the project had "strategic, national and international importance."
In an apparent reference to India and China, Netanyahu on Saturday told his ministers that in the "coming decade new powers will arise [with whom] Israel must create vital interests from a national strategy point-of-view."
Netanyahu has stated that both the Asian giants have expressed a great deal of interest in the project. The Premier yesterday also asserted that Israel had an interest in creating an alternative route between Asia and Europe to the Suez Canal, and that this could serve as an "insurance policy".
Such a link has the potential to serve as a means of transporting goods to Europe without having to go through the Suez Canal, since cargo unloaded in Eilat would then be sent by rail to Israeli ports, and from there to Europe.
"Israel must become a continental land crossing route and create great power interest," the Israeli Premier said. In addition to the strategic aspects of this rail link, Netanyahu said it would also shorten travel time from Eilat to Tel Aviv to two hours, "and will change the face of the country".
"For 63 years, there has been talk about linking the periphery to the center, but nothing has been done," he added. Currently the drive from Tel Aviv to Eilat takes about 5 hours.
According to yesterday's decision, a team chaired by PMO director-general Harel Locker will consider three options to finance the project - an inter-governmental agreement with another government with which there are economic and strategic interests; public funding; or construction through a private franchisee, a press statement said.
Constructing of the new rail link would necessitate both upgrading existing tracks, and laying new ones, the transportation ministry said.
The Red-Med railway will include 63 bridges, which altogether will span some 4. 5 kilometers, and 5 tunnels, which together will extend for some 9.5 kilometers, it said.