Saudi Arabia could turn rival Qatar into an island by digging new canal

Samer al-Atrush
Qataris are dismayed by the reports - AP

Saudi Arabia intends to literally carve up the Arabian Peninsula to spite its tiny neighbour Qatar, inviting companies to construct a canal that would turn the emirate into an island, according to Saudi media reports.

The kingdom, which has led a blockade on Qatar for more than a year, has invited five companies to bid for the project, Mekkah newspaper reported, adding that a Saudi military base would be built in the kilometre-deep buffer zone between the future “Salwa Canal” and Qatar.

“Qatar won’t be an independent island after this project,” the newspaper quoted “geopolitical experts” as saying.

The project had been first floated in the kingdom’s media in April, when the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya broadcaster said the 60km by 200m canal would include a tourist resort and a nuclear waste dump in addition to the military base.

There was no official Saudi confirmation of the project. The Mekkah newspaper said the contact winner would be announced within three months.

Some Saudis celebrated the news. “Yet another historical moment for our country, we are changing geography of the world (sic),” wrote one on Twitter.

Countries imposing sanctions on Qatar

Qataris have reacted with outrage. Their country’s only land border is with Saudi Arabia.

“Digging the Salwa Canal reminds me of the Battle of the Confederates when the Jews of Khaibar and the infidels of Quraish and their allies surrounded the Musims in Medina,” tweeted Qatari writer Ahmed al-Sulaiti, referring to a battle between the Muslim prophet Mohamed’s forces and his enemies.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt launched the blockade in June 2017, accusing Qatar of supporting terrorism and Islamist extremist groups.

The new reports on the canal project come days after Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa said there was no end in sight to the blockade.

“The information in our hands today does not indicate any glimmer of hope for a solution now,” he told a Saudi-owned newspaper. Qatar, a gas-rich country, depends on imports even for basic foodstuffs.

Following the blockade it flew and shipped in thousands of cows to provide milk. It has also became increasingly reliant on Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional nemesis, and Turkey.