JERUSALEM—Israeli Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz called Wednesday for a rail link between Israel and Saudi Arabia in a wide-ranging interview with the London-based Saudi news website Elaph.
“We will extend the track that connects Haifa and Beit Shean to the Sheikh Hussein Bridge (the border crossing between Israel and Jordan), the Jordanians will extend it to connect to the Saudi railways, and that’s how we will connect Haifa to the Gulf,” Katz said.
“I want to revive the Hejaz Railway. This is not a dream at all,” he added referring to the rail line that once connected Damascus, Haifa and Medina in the days of the Ottoman Empire.
The interview was the second time in recent weeks that the Saudi publication has sat down with a high-ranking Israeli official, after interviewing IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot in November.
Katz also spoke of his plan to build an island port off the coast of Gaza, which, he said was the key to solving the humanitarian crisis in the Strip and connecting Gazans to the outside world.
Speaking of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent statements accusing Israel of war crimes, as well as the stark criticism of US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Katz said: “Erdogan is acting as a frenemy… He attacks us a lot, and we respond, But this does not prevent him from channeling 25% of Turkey’s exports to the Gulf through Haifa’s port.”
Katz said Erdogan sees himself as the global leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and therefore feels the need to constantly attack Israel: “But the reality speaks for itself – Turkish Airlines is the largest international company operating in Israel.. [trade between the two countries]has only grown since the Marmara incident”.
Expanding on President Trump’s Jerusalem declaration, Katz pointed out that Trump did not use the term ‘unified Jerusalem’ in his speech, nor did he speak about Jerusalem’s borders, which, according to Katz leaves an opening for any future negotiations.
Katz told Elaph that Saudi Arabia must lead the reconciliation efforts between Israel and the Arab world, however, the paper chose to omit a section of the interview where he called upon the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman to visit Israel, as well as a request that the prince invite Netanyahu to Riyadh for peace talks.
While the invitation was dropped from the publication, the article still highlighted Katz’s vision of a peaceful future brought on by economic prosperity, “Despite all the pessimism, I actually see many opportunities. This is the time to connect to the Gulf via Jordan, to establish a port [off the coast of]Gaza, and to have them all connect by railway to Haifa’s port. In a reality where this is implemented and agreed upon, these routes can see the transport of $250 Billion worth of goods annually.”