Saudi Arabia mulls turning Qatar into an island with large canal

The ongoing blockade of Qatar by its Gulf neighbours has taken a new twist with reports that Saudi Arabia plans to turn its small neighbour into an island by digging a 60-km canal along their shared border.

The Saudi plan also involves establishing a military base at one end of the canal, and provocatively situating a nuclear waste dump nearby, according to Saudi media.

If ever implemented, the canal would turn the diplomatic rift that opened in June between Qatar and an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia into a physical one.

Accusing Qatar of supporting terrorism, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut trade and diplomatic ties last summer with Qatar, whose territory comprises a small peninsula jutting from Saudi Arabia into the Persian Gulf. Qatar denies their accusations.

The blockade created logistical difficulties for the small kingdom, where a building boom is under way in preparation for the 2022 World Cup. With roads to Qatar closed through Saudi Arabia, and no communication allowed between Qatar and ports and airports in UAE, alternative routes must be found for materials and people.

Citing sources familiar with the proposed plan, Saudi media last week reported that the canal would be 60km long and 200m wide, running the entire length of the Saudi-Qatari border, reports Bloomberg.

Estimated to cost $750m, and financed by private Saudi and Emirati investors, the project is awaiting licensing and would be finished one year after approval is given, say reports.

While not confirming the plans, the UAE’s foreign minister Anwar Gargash goaded Qatar, tweeting on 8 April that Doha’s silence at the news is "proof of their fear and confusion".

Egyptian companies would dig the canal, say reports.

The nuclear waste would come from reactors Saudi Arabia is planning to build.

The UAE is also planning to build a nuclear waste dump "at the closest point to Qatar on the Emirati border," Bloomberg cited the Al Riyadh newspaper as saying.

The idea drew a scornful response from Gulf analyst Michael Stephens, of the Royal United Services Institute, a defence and security think tank.

"This is completely bonkers," he tweeted on 6 April.

"Sorry, but I don’t know why people are pushing this story. There are so many reasons as to why this could never happen."

Image: A small peninsula jutting from Saudi Arabia into the Persian Gulf, Qatar has relied on Saudi roads and Dubai ports and airports to import people and materials for its building boom (Google Maps)

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