A high-ranking Saudi official says his country is seriously considering constructing a canal that would turn tiny neighbor Qatar into an island, amid the ongoing Saudi-led diplomatic and trade boycott against the energy-rich Persian Gulf kingdom.
“As a citizen, I am impatiently waiting for the details of the implementation of the East Salwa island project. This great and historic project will change the region’s geography,” Saud al-Qahtani, a senior adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, wrote on his Twitter page on Friday.
The project had been first floated in Saudi media in April, when the Arabic-language online newspaper Sabq reported that the 60 kilometers (37 mile) by 200 meters canal would be 20 meters deep, and that the waterway would be built at least 0.6 miles from the border with Qatar
The canal would include a tourist resort and a nuclear waste dump in addition to a military base.
The cost of the project was estimated at 2.8 billion Saudi riyals (roughly $745 million).
The Makkah newspaper published a report in June that Riyadh was moving ahead with the plans, and five international companies had been invited to bid for the project, with a winner to be announced in September.
This is while several analysts have cast doubts on the ambitious idea.
Ali Shihabi, founder of the Washington-based Arabia Foundation, said the Salwa Channel reports were probably psychological warfare.
“If you create a canal, you do Qatar a favor because you create a ‘moat’ to protect them when now their land borders are fully exposed to Saudi Arabia,” Shihabi said.
Andreas Krieg, an assistant professor in defense studies at King’s College in London, also said Qatar itself had earlier proposed the idea of building a canal, but decided to abandon it because of the high costs entailed.
Krieg noted that it would be unlikely for Saudi Arabia which is “financially struggling” to “spend that money on a PR stunt.”
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt all cut off diplomatic ties with Qatar on June 5 last year, after officially accusing it of “sponsoring terrorism.”
The administration of the Saudi-backed and former Yemeni president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, Libya, the Maldives, Djibouti, Senegal and the Comoros later joined the camp in ending diplomatic ties with Doha. Jordan downgraded its diplomatic relations as well.
Qatar’s Foreign Ministry later announced that the decision to cut diplomatic ties was unjustified and based on false claims and assumptions.
On June 9, 2017, Qatar strongly dismissed allegations of supporting terrorism after the Saudi regime and its allies blacklisted dozens of individuals and entities purportedly associated with Doha.
Later that month, Saudi Arabia and its allies released a 13-point list of demands, including the closure of Al Jazeera television network and downgrade of relations with Iran, in return for the normalization of diplomatic relations with Doha.
The document containing the demands by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain also asked Qatar to sever all ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Lebanese Hezbollah resistance movement. Qatar rejected the demands as “unreasonable.”