It almost sounds too insane to be believed, but Saudi Arabia's move to further isolate neighboring Arab rival Qatar by literally turning it into an island is but the latest in an intense year long feud between the two countries that has already produced its fair share of bizarre headlines.
Tiny but ultra-wealthy Qatar is a peninsula which shares a 37.5 mile border (60km) with Saudi Arabia on the kingdom's northeast side and juts out from the Arabian peninsula about 100 miles into the Persian Gulf.
Saudi media revealed this week the kingdom is quickly moving forward with ambitious plans to dig a 200 meter wide and 15-10 meter deep canal the entire length of the land border, effectively creating 'Qatar island' — as some Mideast news sources are already calling it.
Of course, the Qataris don't appear to have a say in their own country's geographic fate, and the Saudis and Emirates further plan to locate nuclear waste sites and a military base along the proposed canal to boot.
The so-called “Salwa Marine Canal Project” has reportedly opened up to bidding among five international companies that specialize in digging canals, with bids closing next Monday and the project to be awarded in 90 days, according to regional sources. The canal project is estimated to cost up to 2.8 billion riyals ($750 million) according to Saudi-based Sabq newspaper.
Qatar has remained defiant throughout its unprecedented summer diplomatic crisis with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states which have brought immense pressure to bear on the oil and gas rich monarchy through a complete economic and diplomatic blockade imposed by its neighbors. Saudi and UAE officials have long accused Qatar of supporting terrorism, aligning with Iran, and meddling in the affairs of its gulf neighbors in a crisis that has resulted in the near complete unraveling of the GCC.
The Salwa canal was first announced in April but many observers dismissed it as but the latest in outrageous Saudi claims and punitive measures aimed at Qatar.
Newsweek reported in early April:
Apparently, Riyadh is not content with traditional isolation. The so-called “Salwa Marine Canal Project” would establish a military base in one area of the border and a nuclear waste site in another. The waste would come from the nuclear reactors that Saudi Arabia is planning to build. The border would then be clearly demarcated by a wide canal. The UAE would also build a nuclear waste site at its border’s closest point to Qatar.
But it now appears to be concretely advancing and not a bluff.
Beyond nuclear waste and military installations, Riyadh further envisages beach resorts in Salwa, Sakak, Khor al-Adeed and Ras Abu Qamees, and marinas for yachts and leisure.
According to Dubai-based Gulf News the canal will be fully within the Saudi side of the border, meaning Qatar will have no rights or access to the waterway. Gulf News further (somewhat enthusiastically) notes that "In April, Saudi border guards took control of the Salwa crossing, effectively cutting off Qatar's only terrestrial link with the outside world."
The project will reportedly be funded entirely but UAE and Saudi private investors, and it will be interesting to see if it actually comes to fruition. If so, building what is essentially a massive 60km long mote to physically cut off an entire country would certainly constitute a first in the history of diplomatic warfare.