G20 could see India-UAE-Saudi mega-railway deal inked with Israel links also in the pipeline

G20 could see India-UAE-Saudi mega-railway deal inked with Israel links also in the pipeline
A mega-railway deal could be inked this week could see the Gulf region linked like never before.
3 min read
08 September, 2023
MbS and Modi could boost ties with the proposed mega-project [Getty]

A mega transport deal linking India to the Gulf region, and possibly Israel, is expected to be announced on Saturday at the G20 summit in New Delhi, following intense US-led negotiations in Riyadh this week.

A memorandum of understanding between India, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE could be signed in India over the weekend, Axios reported, to kick-start a rail network linking the Gulf region, and shipping lanes connecting India to the GCC ports.

The project could even bring in Israel and Arab Levant countries, but this hinges on efforts to have Israel and Saudi Arabia establish ties. Talks between Saudi, UAE, Indian officials, and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, took place in Riyadh this week on this issue.

While Sullivan admitted there's still work to be done on the proposed normalisation deal, one result of the talks appears to be an agreement to push ahead with the transport infrastructure project.

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"The project was one of the main issues discussed at that meeting, which launched a series of follow-up negotiations led from the US side by Biden's senior adviser for energy and infrastructure Amos Hochstein," two sources told Axios.

The GCC region is a vital source of natural resources for New Delhi, while Indian goods are popular in Gulf markets and the infrastructure project could see trade boosted between the two regions, as China looks to expand its influence in Asia via the Belt and Road Initiative.

Washington has been concerned by China's entry into the Middle East with Beijing agreeing a range of business and military deals with traditional US allies such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Such an initiative could curb China's growing economic might in the Middle East and reaffirm Washington's commitment to the region, after years of alleged neglect by the US.

A forum including the US, UAE, Israel, and India was established in 2021, called I2U2, serving as a potential counterweight to China and boosting infrastructure projects between the two regions with Saudi Arabia a possible candidate for the group.

The idea would be for Gulf countries to utilise India's experience in mega-infrastructure projects with talks on the rail-sea link proposal ongoing over the past year, Axios added.

Washington has been pushing for Saudi Arabia to agree to normalise relations with Israel complete with a mega deal.

Two issues that appear to be stalling the project are Riyadh's demands for US expertise on the establishment of a civilian nuclear power project in Saudi Arabia and the status of Palestine, with the kingdom wanting an independent Palestinian state to be established.

Relations between India and Israel have strengthened under President Narendra Modi with an Indian consortium buying Haifa port

The GCC had plans for a Gulf-wide rail network, which was stalled before the 2017 blockade of Qatar. It is not known what the status of this project is and how the touted mega-rail project might affect it.