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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2831

Turning a Peninsula into an Island: Saudi Qatar rivalry takes a new turn

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

Qatar, the tiny gulf nation that has been subjected to a 14-month-long, air and land embargo by its powerful neighbours, may be forced to brace itself for yet another trouble – this time, on its south-western border.

A high ranking Saudi official, a senior advisor to Mohamed bin Salman, the powerful Crown Prince, claimed that a canal will be dug along the Qatar-Saudi border in a project, dubbed the Salwar Island Project.

The proposed canal, 60 km in length and 200 metres in width, will effectively – and physically - cut off Qatar, a peninsula at present, from the Saudi mainland and turn the former into an island.

Since the canal is going to be on the Saudi side of the border, Qatar is not going to reap any benefits from it; on the contrary, the fine print of the details came out so far depicts more troubles for the gas-rich gulf nation.

While describing the project, the official could not suppress his enthusiasm over the move: He said:: 'I am impatiently waiting for details on the implementation of the Salwa Island Project, a great, historic project that will change the geography of the region,’ said he on Twitter.

Of course, not many will doubt the claim that it would change the geography in the region. A lot, however, will doubt that changes would just be limited to geography, given the capriciousness that exists in the region, since Qatar was isolated; Saudis will not just spend nearly 1$ billion dollars on a project just for the sake of changing geography in the region, especially at a time when the country has been forced to go on an unprecedented austerity drive.

According to the official, the Saudis have already invited for bids and the winner will be announced in September.
Apart from what has been revealed by the official, there has not been an official Saudi announcement on the issue.

Qatar has not commented on it either. Al-Jazeera, the TV channel owned by the state of Qatar, is also quiet about the issue with no reference to it on its official website.

Although, Saudi Arabia is within its rights to dig the proposed canal across its border, what could worry Qatar – and the political neutral neighbours - is the fact that a part of the canal will be for storing nuclear waste.

It’s difficult to imagine a scenario of Saudi Arabia at a direct military advantage with the proposed canal over the connection by land, in the short run. The canal, not wider than Suez, however, could spell trouble for Qatar in the long run.


First of all, it’s clear that Saudi Arabia does not seem to be prepared to mend fences with Qatar. On the contrary, it plans to perpetuate the conflict and get ready for a long haul; you don’t want to dig a canal to separate two neighbours only to erect a bridge to make crossing later.

Digging canals – or piercing holes – have always been boring endeavours in public eye, although generations benefit from them for the years to come. Even Elon Musk, the visionary at Tesla, named his company, renowned for projects of this kind, The Big Boring Company. - for a reason.

The ambitious project by the Saudis, however, is not going to be a boring event since its very inception, given the never-ending volatility of the region and the spectacle that stems from the way a tiny nation fighting for its survival, having been cornered by four bigger neighbours – despite being crowned as the world’s richest nation by per capita.

- Asian Tribune -

Turning a Peninsula into an Island: Saudi Qatar rivalry takes a new turn
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