After the Arab Spring in 2011, Saudi Arabia and Qatar stood on opposing sides in terms of ideological aspect, creating tension between the two countries ever since. The tension reached an all-time high last summer as Saudi Arabia, among other Arab countries, cut ties with Qatar stating that Qatar supports “extremism and terrorism”. After cutting ties, Saudi Arabia shut down the border with Qatar as well as closing their airspace to aircraft. This act by Saudi Arabia has effectively cut Qatar off from the continent as Qatar has only one land border, and it is with Saudi Arabia.
In the past year, Qatar has basically become an isolated island as its relations with Saudi Arabia continue to deteriorate. Just this summer, Saudi Arabia has announced that it will build a 38-miles’ canal- the exact same length as its border with Qatar. This canal will be placed half a mile from the border. Saudi Arabian authorities have stated that because the canal falls completely in their territory, it then does not violate any terms of international law.
This New Canal Would Turn Qatar into an Island
Of the 193 sovereign member states of the United Nations, 47—almost one in four—are island nations. They range from some of the world’s largest countries (Indonesia is the 14th largest nation on earth, with 260 million residents) to the very smallest (Nauru has about 13,000 people and is about one-fifth the size of Disney World). But the count of island nations could go up to 48 shortly. One peninsular country seems to be at risk of becoming its own island—and not by choice.
Short fuses on both sides of a short border.
Saudi Arabia‘s relations with its smaller neighbor, the State of Qatar, have been strained lately—and that’s putting it mildly. The two countries were on opposite sides ideologically during the 2011 Arab Spring, and things reached a crisis last June, when Saudi Arabia and several other Arab countries cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing them of supporting “extremism and terrorism.” Saudi Arabia banned Qatari vessels from its ports and closed its airspace to Qatari planes. It even closed its entire border with its neighbor, effectively turning the peninsula of Qatar into an island.
Saudi Arabia wants 38 new miles of Persian Gulf beaches.
But over the summer, Saudi Arabia announced it would go even further than that. It wants to turn Qatar literally into an island. It’s taking bids for a massive project that would dig a 38-mile ship canal the full length of its border with Qatar, stranding the former peninsula as a new island in the Persian Gulf.
The new waterway could be a luxurious Venetian canal.
The planned “Salwa Channel” would cost $745 million, and would run along Saudi territory at least half a mile from the border. Saudi Arabian authorities say that this makes the project perfectly legal under international law. There’s talk of fancy new resorts along this new Saudi beachfront—but other reports suggest the Saudis will stick it to their “offshore” rivals with a new military base and a nuclear waste disposal site.
The Salwa Channel might be strategically crucial—for Qatar!
Since Qatar is already effectively cut off from Saudi Arabia, the canal project looks more like political posturing than actual infrastructure. It may be a psychological tactic that never actually gets built. The plan could also backfire if things between Saudi Arabia and Qatar get even more tense. In that case, Saudi Arabia would have plowed hundreds of millions of dollars into an impregnable “moat” for Qatar across what was once their biggest vulnerability, their only land border.
Source: Conde Nast Traveler, Ken Jennings, Sep. 17, 2018. Photo credit to Ruland Kolen/ Google Earth.