The Bridge that Goes Nowhere

There are many predictions regarding the plan agreed upon by Saudi King Salman and Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi this week to build a 32-kilometer bridge between Ras Hamid, in northern Saudi Arabia, and the Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt.
The original plan, proposed in 2005, was to open a new route for pilgrims traveling to Saudi Arabia that would boost Egypt’s tourism and trade, thus providing the Egyptian economy with a shot in the arm.
Current plans for the King Salman Bridge envision hundreds of thousands of trucks transporting goods from Egyptian ports east to Gulf Cooperation Council countries.
Once the bridge is built, many Muslim pilgrims who make pilgrimages to Mecca each year will not need to fly to Saudi airports that currently have great difficulty processing all of them. The pilgrims will be able to travel to Egypt by boat or plane, and then continue to Saudi Arabia by buses or trains via the bridge. Thus, the costs of the pilgrims will be reduced, and Egypt will receive an economic boost.
This causeway could also be used by hundreds of thousands or even millions of Egyptian workers who may seek jobs in Gulf countries for better wages in place of Indians and Pakistanis who increasingly prefer to stay home due to the poor reputation of many employers in the Gulf.
In addition, the bridge could serve as a crossing point for convoys of trucks traveling to Gulf countries from Turkey. Those convoys currently travel via Iraq or Israel.
If the war in Syria comes to an end, the trucks would be able to travel via Jordan to northern Saudi Arabia, where they could turn west toward the King Salman Bridge and cross into Egypt. Convoys of trucks could travel south to all of the Gulf countries.
Once Israel completes its railroad to Eilat around the year 2020, it may be possible to transfer trucks or goods that reach the port of Haifa, and continue the train line along the Gulf of Aqaba to Sharm El Sheikh, and from there to the new road's links to the bridge.
But DEBKA Weekly’s Middle Eastern sources point out that in today’s Middle East, with one war in Yemen between the Saudi-led Sunni bloc and the Iran-led Shiite bloc, and another war in Syria between the Sunnis and the Shiites and ISIS, there are very serious doubts about whether these ambitious plans can be realized.
A more realistic assessment is that the bridge will be barely used except by traffic between Saudi Arabia and Egypt. One of the main reasons is its planned location in northern Saudi Arabia. The bridge would be more than 1,300 kilometers from the southern part of the country, and 1,800 kilometers from central Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. These distances would make the trip economically unviable, especially since the costs for transportation by sea are considerably less.
This was apparently the reason why the agreement signed by the Saudis and the Egyptians in Cairo contained no mention of the dates for the start or completion of construction.
Another important reason why the plan remains uncertain is an estimation that as soon as the bridge opens to traffic, it is likely to be used by the networks for smuggling weapons, drugs, women and new cars that currently extend from Libya to Jordan.
Unless preventive measures are taken, the King Salman Bridge may help unify the smuggling and organized crime networks from Abu Dhabi in the Gulf to Benghazi in eastern Libya that are now separated by 5,000km.

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