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Does The US Want To Build A Nuclear-Derived Suez Canal Competitor Through Gaza?
Does this explain the US's and UK's support for a state committing genocide?
The Israel-Palestine conflict is complex. You probably already knew that. It has a long and convoluted past, with several colonial influences over the region making matters even worse. That’s not to say that understanding the current situation is difficult. Only one side has been consistently criticised by the UN and countless human rights organisations for decades, created open-air concentration camps and an apartheid state, repeatedly violated international law, committed numerous war crimes and is systematically committing genocide. Yes, Hamas is a terrorist organisation, and we must condemn its actions. But Israel is objectively far less moral and is the persecutor of far more heinous acts. So, why do the US and UK support such a horrific state so unconditionally? Well, a recent theory has popped up that has gained tremendous traction that suggests it’s all over a shipping canal that will be built with nuclear bombs! But does this idea hold up to scrutiny?
I first heard of this theory from TikToker Celine Lilas. Her video is incredibly well-cited, beautifully concise and easy to understand. I thoroughly recommend watching the whole video here. In the video, she lays out the evidence that the US is supporting Israel to create a shipping canal through the Negev mountains to connect the Gulf of Aqaba to the Mediterranean Sea. This canal would rival the Suez Canal, be highly profitable, solve countless geopolitical and trading issues and be of immeasurable strategic importance to Israel, the US and its allies. There are only two major problems. Firstly, building this canal would be extremely hard, so hard that in the 1960s, there was a proposal to use hundreds of nuclear bombs to excavate it. Secondly, the Gaza Strip, the part of Palestine currently under the heaviest fire from Israel, is in the way.
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To understand all of this, you first need to know what the Suez Canal is, its purpose, its history, its problems, and its future.
Between 1859 and 1869, France and Egypt built the Suez Canal. This 193 km long, 24 m deep, 205 m wide canal links the Red Sea with the Mediterranean Sea. This allows ships to sail directly from Asia and the Middle East to Europe and the Eastern Americas without circumnavigating Africa. This saves a whopping 8,900 kilometres (5,500 mi) and ten days of travel. Needless to say, it has become a crucial part of global trade and logistics ever since.
This meant that the political pressure on the canal was immense. So much so that in 1875, the British bought a controlling share in the Suez Company, making themselves and France the principal shareholders. This guaranteed their and their ally’s ships access through the canal, strengthening their international influences as well as providing a tidy profit.
In 1888, the world’s most significant maritime powers signed the Convention of Constantinople. This treaty guaranteed the rite of passage of any state’s ships through the Suez Canal during war or peace. This meant the Suez Canal could be used for the benefit of everyone, no matter what.
Sadly, Egypt had a sore deal here. They had only leased the land to the French and, as such, had no real stake in the canal despite its global importance and vast profits. They weren’t even a part of the Convention of Constantinople. So, in July 1956, Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalised the canal and effectively took ownership of it, creating the Suez Crisis. Israel, with support from France and the UK, attempted to invade the Suez Canal and regain control to no avail. In response to prior aggression from Israel (during the Nakba) and this recent invasion attempt, Egypt violated the Convention of Constantinople and blocked Israeli ships from passing through the canal, significantly impacting the country.
How Egypt can violate a treaty they weren’t a part of is beyond me.
Over the next few years, this crisis was settled with a peace treaty spearheaded by the US, known as the Camp David Accords. Egypt kept ownership of the Canal, and Israeli ships were granted passage to it. The status quo of the canal has remained steady ever since. It is now a major part of Egypt’s economy, with an annual revenue of 9.4 billion US dollars.
But, the Suez Canal is far from perfect. The sandy, low-lying geology of the area made it easy to build (hence why it could have been built in the 1800s), but it also meant it was incredibly difficult to make it wide enough for ships to travel in both directions at the same time, as the shores weren’t stable enough. As such, the canal operates one-way for six hours and then changes direction. This leads to massive queues and delays. Ships also get stuck in the canal, creating blockages like the one in 2021, creating billions of dollars worth of trade damage in the process. Particularly as 10% of the world’s fossil fuel exports pass through the Suez, and countries like the US and UK depend on these exports.
What’s more, while the Camp David Accords ensure the world can access the canal, there is still a possibility that Egypt could revoke Israeli access as they did in the past. Particularly if Israel pushes millions of Palestinians into Egypt as they occupy and bomb their land, creating a refugee crisis in Egypt. Which, by the way, Israel has been planning on doing for years and is effectively doing with its current bombardment of Gaza.
All of these political and practical issues of the Suez could be easily solved with an Israeli-owned counterpart. As such, in 1963, the Ben Gurion Canal Project was started. The idea was to use 520 nuclear devices to create a similar canal through the Negev mountains to connect the Gulf of Aqaba to the Mediterranean Sea. Thanks to this region’s more stable geology, a two-lane, two-way canal would be possible. So even though the proposed route is a third longer than the Suez, it would be more efficient and take less time to cross. It would also guarantee Israel and their allies, such as the US and UK, maritime access to the Middle East and Asia no matter what. This would remove a lot of political pressure and allow Israel, the US and the UK to make more significant moves against Middle Eastern countries without fear of losing Suez Canal access. This is vital for both the US and Israel, as they still depend on access to oil from the Middle East, so being able to have a greater influence over the region without consequences is strategically fantastic for them. What’s more, Israel predicts the canal would make them $6 billion a year at least.
But, despite a vast amount of internal support for this canal, Israel has never built it. Why?
Well, The Gaza Strip is right in the way. The canal has to snake around it, lengthening the crossing time and adding multiple billions of dollars to the build cost. What’s more, being so close to Palestinian territory would make this vital bit of infrastructure incredibly vulnerable to terrorist attacks from groups like Hamas. After all, it’s incredibly easy to block such a canal; just sink a ship in the entrance, and you have created billions of dollars worth of economic damage. Not only would such an attack be bad news for Israel financially, but it could turn the tide on Israel internationally. After all, the world would likely be outraged at such an attack and demand Israel make peace with Palestine and Hamas to ensure the safety of the infrastructure, something which the Israeli state has repeatedly stated is not in their interests. If Israel didn’t, then the world could boycott their canal and use the Suez instead, leaving Israel in tens of billions of dollars of debt and no cash flow to pay for it.
If only there were a way for Israel to take control of the Gaza Strip. That way, the Ben Gurion Canal could be significantly shorter, cheaper to build and less susceptible to terrorist attacks and international pressure. It would also be of vast strategic importance to the US, UK and their allies, giving them far greater freedom and influence over the Middle East.
As such, the theory buzzing around the internet is that this is why the US and UK are supporting Israel as they commit genocide in Gaza. It’s strategic for them.
But does this position hold up to scrutiny?
There are several problems with the Ben Gurion Canal, practically, technologically and financially.
Firstly, the nuclear bomb-digging technology the initial proposal was based on doesn’t exist. It came from the US’s Project Plowshare. The idea of this project was to develop nuclear bombs that could be used like dynamite to make massive water infrastructure that would be impossible otherwise. The extra firepower not only allowed them to increase the scale of these projects but also allowed them to be built in locations they previously couldn’t — for example, building a giant sea-level canal through the rocky mountains of Negev. But, engineers couldn’t find a way to negate the deadly fallout such bombs would create. As such, Project Plowshare was halted in 1975, and we still can’t use nuclear bombs in this way, as they poison the land for miles around.
So, the Ben Gurion Canal would have to be built like every other canal, making it damn expensive. The geology of the Panama Canal is more similar to the proposed route of the Ben Gurion than the Suez. It cost the US $8 billion (in today’s money) to build this 80 km canal. If we assume the cost per km will be the same for the Ben Gurion (which is likely an underestimate as modern infrastructure is more expensive to build, and the Panama Canal didn’t have to go through literal mountains), the total cost for the 292.9 km canal comes to $29.29 billion! Some estimates for the cost of the canal come to $55 billion, and even that is still likely an underestimation.
This cost could make the Ben Gurion Canal utterly unfeasible. Particularly if the profit predictions are unrealistic or international demand for the canal dips (thanks to boycotts or sanctions).
This vast cost also has another problem. You see, Egypt can either build a new canal parallel to the Suez Canal or expand the existing one at a third of the cost of the Ben Gurion Canal. So, all the practical reasons to build the Ben Gurion Canal are moot. The only reason you would make it is for political strategy. Moreover, once you have built Ben Gurion, the Suez could easily upgrade and become the better option for shipping as it would be shorter, cheaper and, thanks to the Camp David Accords making the Suez open to all states, more accessible and reliable than the Ben Gurion.
So, it is unlikely there are those in the West who want to crush Gaza so that they can build the Ben Gurion Canal.
Truth be told, there are far more reasons for the US and UK to support Israel. Israel is in a fossil fuel prospecting boom! Israel has seen some of the world’s largest recent discoveries of gas and oil. These new oil and gas discoveries have kickstarted vast foreign investment into drilling and exploration rights. As such, Israel has given new natural gas drilling licences to UK-based BP and Italian-based Eli.
What’s more, UK and US relations with Israel are vital to securing their energy. As I said, both the UK and the US are dependent on oil exports from the Middle East, and they use Israel as their “stabilising force in the Middle East, keeping at bay unrest that would threaten access to the regional oil supply.” This stabilising force is more of a strong-arming, nuclear threat flavour rather than a diplomatic one, but it keeps the lights on and industry burning for these two countries.
As such, neither the US nor the UK can afford to compromise their relationship with Israel. It could severely jeopardise their investment in the region, access to energy, and position on the global political scene.
So, I don’t think Caline Lilas’s theory holds up to scrutiny, as the Ben Gurion Canal simply doesn’t make sense. That being said, politics doesn’t make sense, and many go off ideology, unfounded hope, scapegoating and illogical arguments. Brexit is a fine example of this. So I’m sure there are political figures in Israel, the US, the UK and worldwide secretly justifying and supporting the genocide of Palestinians to build this inane canal. But our Western support of this horrific state doesn’t come from this; instead, it is rooted in the remnants of colonialism, Western global influence and oil. Once you understand that, the history, present and future of this fractured region becomes far easier to understand.
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Sources: Celine Lilas, MEM, Reuters, Frontier India, DoE, Office of the Historian, Stanford, Xinhua, NZ Foreign Affairs, Zachary Karabell, Britannica, Duke Law, MoFF, Business Insider, Vox, DG Law, Suez Canal Authority, UN, Ducksters, Britannica, Nevada National Security Site