Google has begun laying the groundwork for a new fibre-optic internet cable from India to Europe that could be routed through arch-rivals Saudi Arabia and Israel.
The tech giant wants to build the $400million cable, dubbed Blue-Raman, to bypass the regional choke-point of Egypt.
Plans would instead see the cable go from Mumbai to Saudi via the Red Sea, then up through Jordan and Israel, across the Mediterranean and into Italy.
The project is taking shape as Arab states thaw decades of frozen relations with Israel, and amid claims that Saudi is working towards recognising the Jewish state.
Google is planning to build a $400million internet cable – dubbed Blue-Raman (pictured in blue) – through arch-rivals Saudi Arabia and Israel to bypass Egypt
Bahrain, the UAE and Sudan have already agreed to establish ties with Israel, breaking with a decades-old demand among Arab states that recognising Palestine was a necessary precursor to any deal with Israel.
While the deals are historic in themselves, President Trump – whose administration has been overseeing the process – suggested that nine other Arab states, including Saudi, were also getting ready to sign up.
While Saudi and Israel have made no official moves to establish ties, it was reported this week that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia.
The meeting, if confirmed, would be the first of its kind between two senior officials from those countries.
Saudi Arabia subsequently denied the meeting had taken place, and Netanyahu’s office refused to comment.
But flight logs showed that a jet the Israeli leader often uses had flown between the two countries on the day in question.
And a day after the reported trip took place, Israel removed Saudi Arabia from its coronavirus quarantine list.
Google has begun laying groundwork for the cable as Saudi Arabia and Israel ease tensions – with Netanyahu (left) reportedly meeting with Mohammed bin Salman (right) this week
The Health Ministry denied that the move bore any relation to the news, without acknowledging that the trip had taken place.
If Saudi Arabia were to recognise Israel, it would mark a fundamental shift in the stalled Middle East peace process – and would likely convince other Arab states to follow suit.
Any deal between the two would be a massive boost to Google’s project, which is still seeking permission from Saudi Arabia, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Because of the Middle East’s volatile politics, the vast majority of internet cables from Asia to Europe past through Egypt.
According to blog Open Cables, a third of the world relies on Egypt for its internet access – leaving networks vulnerable to problems in the country.
That dependency also allows Egypt to charge exorbitant fees to cable operators, with the Israel-Saudi route thought to be up to 50 per cent cheaper to run.
Sources at the company told WSJ the route could still change and may have to run through Egypt if Saudi refuses to play ball.
But if Riyadh gives its permission, then it could provide the first strategic link between the two old foes.
It comes after Bahrain, the UAE and Sudan normalised relations with Israel, in negotiations overseen by the Trump administration (pictured, Netanyahu, Trump, Bahrain foreign minister and UAE foreign minister at the White House)
Israel’s communications minister Yoaz Hendel has previously welcomed the prospect of using the cable to strengthen ties with its regional neighbours.
‘In any place where you can lay down cables overland or undersea, you also create mutual interests,’ he said.
Saudi Arabia’s ageing King Salman is thought to bitterly oppose normalising relations between his kingdom and Israel.
But his young heir, Mohammed bin Salman, is seen as a reformer who may bring about change on the issue.
Bin Salman has already spearheaded changes in the kingdom that has allowed women more rights, and is overseeing an agenda that will diversify Saudi’s economy away from oil and towards green energy and tourism.
However, he has also been criticised for his human rights record, including jailing and beheading political adversaries, and a war in Yemen that left most of the country at risk of starvation.
He is also thought to be responsible for ordering the murder of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.