The ongoing war between Hamas fighters and Israeli forces in the Middle East set the future of the recently announced India Middle East Europe Corridor (IMEC) in doldrums. The gravity point of this project hinges on the normalization of ties between the state of Israel and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).
Amid this chaos, Northern Gaza is at the brink of full-scale invasion at the hand of Israeli Defenses Forces (IDF). The death toll of Palestinians has already exceeded nine thousand, while on the other hand, fourteen hundred Israelis have been killed in the war between Hamas and Israel since October 7. Apparently, Israel is firm enough to linger on this war until the complete removal of Hamas from the territory of Gaza takes place. Unfortunately, this may result in even more devastation for the Palestinians.
On a different note, IMEC—an initiative of US allied countries aiming to connect Asia with Europe through gulf countries, was made public on the eve of the G20 Summit held in India this year.
As per the memorandum of understanding released by the White House—available on the its website—IMEC consists of two routes: the southern route, which connects India with the UAE, and the northern route, which links gulf countries with Europe.
It is pertinent to mention that this corridor does not focus on railway routes that provide reliable and cost effective modes of transportation but also primarily focuses to allow laying of pipes for the export of clean hydrogen and cables for digital connectivity and electricity along the railway track. The corridor is expected to enhance trade accessibility, safeguard regional supply chains, facilitate trade, and promote a heightened focus on environmental, social, and governmental issues/exigencies. Moreover, as per this memorandum, countries will come with a concrete plan of action to materialize this project.
Strategists in India have declared this project an alternative to the North-South Corridor, through which India intended to reach Europe via Iran and Russia. But the strained relations between Russia and Europe due to the ongoing Russia -Ukraine conflict have halted India’s ability to reach European markets.
Arguably, IMEC is presenting a counterweight to the Belt and Road initiatives (BRI), in particular, and the rising influence of China, in general, for the White House.
The BRI project of China builds railway lines and road network to reach the markets of Europe and the Middle East, mainly through its Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Route.
To counter the rise of China, the obsession of the US is clearly reflected in the initiatives of the US: Prior to this project, The US lead G7 countries launched the Build Back Better World (B3W), which aims to lend money to developing countries, and launched the Trans Pacific Partnership TPP project. The lack of interest and will of signatory countries to execute these projects in letter and spirit casts a shadow over these US-backed initiatives.
Similarly, the future of the IMEC project faced setbacks due to the ongoing war between Hamas fighters and Israeli forces. The project was announced in the backdrop of negotiations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Israel for normalizing ties. However, the onslaught of Israel defense forces made the KSA to freeze the talks backed by the United States of America. Additionally, Joe Biden–the driving force behind these talks—pledged the transfer of technology and defense assurance to the KSA as a result of KSA normalizing relations with Israel. For Biden, these talks guaranteed a promising campaign for the upcoming Presidential elections which are due in 2024. In his speech, he clearly mentioned that the aim of Hamas attack on Israel was to derail the thaw between KSA and Israel.
Nonetheless, countries whose interests go against the successful operation of this corridor—which include Iran, Russia, and China—are apparently happy with this development of the derailment of IMEC. Ostensibly, the future of IMEC is in danger due to the ongoing power struggle in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine-based Hamas and the freezing of negotiations between the KSA and Israel. Without normalizing relations between KSA and Israel, IMEC will only be a wishful desire for the signatory countries.
The Writer is a Research Officer at Balochistan Think Tank Network and can be reached at @MHBarech.