THE United States and Israel have reportedly proposed a massive infrastructure project to connect Middle Eastern countries with India through a network of ports and railways, potentially as a counter to China’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) and US news website Axios reported that the proposal came out of discussions between the I2U2 Group, a coalition of the US, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), India and Israel established in 2021.

US national security adviser, Mr Jake Sullivan, visited Saudi Arabia earlier this month to discuss the plan with the crown prince, Mr Mohammed bin Salman, and national security advisers from the UAE and India.

Axios reported that Israel raised the idea of connecting the region by rail over the last year, while the US proposed extending the new network to include Saudi Arabia. The initiative would include connecting countries in the Levant and the Persian Gulf via a network of new rail lines that will also enable traffic to reach India via Persian Gulf ports. The project would also tap into India’s expertise in delivering major infrastructure projects.

Washington’s re-engagement with the Middle East follows a decade-long pivot away from the region to focus on competing with China in the Asia-Pacific arena. The US has repeatedly said it will not leave a vacuum in the Middle East for China to fill.

But Beijing has continued to expand its presence there. According to Fudan University’s Green Finance and Development Centre, Saudi Arabia was the second-largest beneficiary of BRI investment in 2022, while Chinese investment in the Middle East saw strong growth of around 10%.

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