Cutting off the Nose

With a new canal, Saudia Arabia plans to turn rival Qatar into an island

With a new canal, Saudia Arabia plans to turn rival Qatar into an island. The proposed canal would need to be at least 0.6 miles from Qatar's border. (AN illustration/Courtesy Google Maps)

After Saudi Arabia cut ties with and blockaded the adjacent peninsula of Qatar in May 2017, the Middle Eastern kingdom is reportedly looking to physically sever the nearby country from the mainland.

According to the Makkah newspaper, five international firms have been invited to submit proposals, due Monday, to dig a 38-mile-long canal on the Saudi side of the border. Saudi Arabia will choose its winning firm in 90 days and begin work on the tentatively-titled “Salwa Channel” immediately after, with construction planned to take less than a year.

If the canal is actually built, it would bridge the Persian Gulf with a 650-foot-wide, 130-foot-deep channel that would allow ships to pass through. This form of “weaponized landscape architecture” would turn Saudi Arabia’s eastern neighbor into a full-blown island.

All of this is still in the planning stages, and, as the Washington Post speculates, plans for the $750 million canal could be a ploy to pressure Qatar psychologically. No final use for the channel has actually been proposed; there have been alternating reports that the new waterway could be used for tourism, a military base, or a dump for nuclear waste.

As has also been pointed out, Saudi Arabia has already blocked Qatar’s only land route, and it’s not clear if adding any other physical barriers along an inaccessible stretch would do much to impact Qatar’s ability to move goods and people in and out of the country. Qatar itself had proposed building the same canal in years past, but ultimately decided against it over the high cost.

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