The War of Trade Routes, Part 1


Probably since the moment mankind started trading, wars of trade routes began. Every nation and state tried to make them shorter and safer for themselves, because then goods could be delivered faster and cheaper. Plus it was possible to get profit at the expense of those who carried goods through the territories of the countries through which the economic roads passed. And often the laying of trade routes became a serious weapon in the war of states. At that time it was possible not to allow the goods of opponents to pass through or to charge such sums for transportation that trade became unprofitable for them.

Centuries have passed: camel caravans and flotillas of sailing ships have been replaced by powerful trains, trailers and giant merchant ships, but the essence remains the same. Modern states are still fighting for trade routes to pass through their territory, using them as a weapon in political struggle and at the same time as a way to pressure their opponents. Today let us consider several corridors, around which passions are boiling and different countries are fighting.

The «Middle East corridor» versus the «Great Silk Road».

In 2013, China’s leader put forward the concept of «One Belt, One Road», according to which new trade routes and transportation corridors will connect Beijing with the countries of Central Asia, Europe and Africa. The belt should cover 4.4 billion people and, naturally, at the same time involve them in the sphere of Chinese influence. But, of course, Western countries, especially the United States, which is waging economic wars with Beijing, do not like the fact that Beijing’s economic and, undoubtedly, political influence will increase. Nor does China’s rival India, which, economically booming and outpacing China in birth rate, also claims leadership. Therefore, it is not surprising that the United States and its allies, in spite of the Silk Road, decided to create their own transportation corridor that would connect India — Middle East — Europe. So Beijing’s «Silk Road» had a serious competitor for the supply of products and energy resources. As American President Biden said after the G20 summit in India, the US, the European Union, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Israel, Jordan and India have finalized an agreement on a new India-Middle East-Europe economic corridor.

The plan was for the «Middle East Corridor» to run from India through UAE-Saudi Arabia-Jordan-Israel to Europe. The logistics was as follows: by sea from India containers are delivered to the ports of the UAE, then by rail to the Israeli Haifa, from there by sea to the Greek port of Piraeus. And from Greece, the cargo is easily delivered throughout Europe. Fast, convenient and profitable. According to experts’ calculations, the time of delivery of a container from India to Europe would be only 72 hours. In addition, the countries, through the territory of which it was planned to conduct this trade route, had to modernize their transport infrastructure, which means thousands of new jobs, investments and so on, which would again contribute to the rise of the economies of these countries.

In addition, other Asian countries could eventually join the «Middle East Corridor»: Vietnam, Bangladesh, Myanmar and others. Great trade prospects!

But then a question arises: the «Middle East Corridor» implies additional transshipments and reloading, while there is a shorter route — the Suez Canal. It is clear that Egypt is not happy about the new transportation route, as the Suez Canal is one of its main sources of income. And with the new «Middle East Corridor» the passage of ships through Suez will be reduced, and there will be less money in the already poor Egyptian treasury. The Middle East Corridor would not become a means of political and economic pressure on Egypt, whose economy is not very happy. China, which saw the Middle East Corridor as a rival and competitor, did not like it either.

And everything seemed to be great with the launch of the «Middle East Corridor», even an agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia was planned, because both countries benefited from this new trade route, but then happened October 7, when Hamas detachments broke into the territory of Israel from Gaza, after which the IDF launched a full-scale war on the territory of the Gaza Strip. And it became obvious that now Israel itself does not care about the trade and transportation corridor, and Saudi Arabia and Jordan can not ignore the mood of the Arab community and in one team with Israel build the «Middle East corridor». So, in fact, Hamas did not just attack Israel, but torpedoed the route from India to Europe.

And, naturally, the question immediately arose: who benefits from this? The answer is: those who are against the construction of the “Middle East Corridor”. And even if it is understood that after some time the operation in Gaza will be over, where are the guarantees that in the future another conflict between Israel and some neighboring Arab country will not break out and the India-Europe trade route will again be under attack? And then China’s Silk Road seems much safer, if only because there are no potential hostilities along its entire length.

And here we have the Houthis shelling ships in the Red Sea, ostensibly to support the Palestinians in Gaza. However, so far their missiles cannot reach Israel, but they managed to reduce the number of ships passing through the Suez Canal, which again hit Egypt’s economy.

In other words, the passions around the «Middle East corridor» have been raging, and of course, everyone has their own interests here. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel benefit from it, Egypt does not, China is not interested in its launch, but for India it is a vital issue. India is competing with China, trying to be a bridge between the West and the Global South. For the US it is also of great importance as a tool to contain China. For the Saudis, it is a bargaining opportunity with China, as they are an important link in the Middle East Path chain. Europeans also benefit from having two trade routes — let’s call them Indian and Chinese — without depending on Beijing.

That is, the trade route has not been built yet, but has already found itself in the center of contradictory interests of world powers.

Even the Turks have announced their project as a counterbalance to the «Middle East Corridor», pointing to the fact that the sea route between Haifa in Israel and Piraeus in Greece passes through waters that Ankara calls «disputed». Erdogan is not at all going to lose the right to be a historic bridge for goods from Europe to Asia. In addition, Erdogan has decided to build a doubler of the Bosphorus in 2021 for 13 billion dollars. It is announced that the new strait, which should connect the Black Sea with the Marmara Sea, will be 50 km long, 25 meters deep and 150 wide.

According to the official version, this is being done to relieve sea traffic through the Bosphorus.

But this has caused concern among many countries, which in addition to the economic part of the project saw a geopolitical component. Why? According to the Montreux Convention of 1936, which was imposed on Turkey by the world powers that were weak at that time, the Bosphorus became the property of all mankind. The Turks, unlike the Egyptians who own the Suez Canal, receive nothing for passing through it.

Having built the second artificial canal, the Turks are going to make it paid. Why should it be paid when there is already a free Bosphorus? But in the Bosphorus there is a queue and it is longer.

But there is also a military aspect of Erdogan’s new «brainchild». According to the Montreux Convention, Turkey can let through the Bosphorus the military fleet of non-Black Sea powers of a certain tonnage. But this does not apply to the Black Sea powers. As soon as the Istanbul Canal is built, which is not covered by the Montreux Convention, the Turks will decide on their own: military vessels of which countries and for how long to let into the Black Sea. This may lead to the appearance of the NATO fleet near Russia’s Black Sea shores.

It should be recognized that the Turks are not alone in the idea of laying new canals through their territory. It is even recalled that after the closure of the Suez Canal in the 60s in Israel there was a project of an alternative to the 193-kilometer Suez Canal. The conditional name — «Ben Gurion» and it was to begin in Eilat on the Red Sea, and end in Ashkelon on the Mediterranean coast, its length was to be 250–300 kilometers. And it was proposed to build two branches for reverse traffic. Calculations showed that ships would be able to overcome the Ben Gurion Canal in 10–14 hours. Each branch of the canal should be 200 meters wide and 50 meters deep. The designers of the canal believe that if the project is realized, up to 20% of the world’s traffic will pass through it. The construction period of the canal is 5 years.

But as the situation around Israel is always explosive — since its emergence as a state — the matter did not go further than talk. And if we take into account that Ashkelon is very close to the Gaza Strip, it is obvious that no one can guarantee the security of the Ben Gurion channel. So for now the canal is only in the project, as well as the «Middle East corridor» India-Europe.

By the way, the creation of this «Middle East route» would be extremely useful for Russia, because it would give Russia access to the countries of the Persian Gulf and India, with which Russia has excellent trade and political relations, and they are now rapidly developing. And given the almost economic blockade that the West has imposed on Russia, trying to cut off its economic ties with the rest of the world, any additional option of trade channels is a support for Russia’s economy.

(What options of trade corridors Russia is now looking for and what it is doing for this purpose — read in the next part).