Gaza and India
20th October 2023
Modi proposed an Europe Middle East India corridor during the G20 on 24th September 2023. The planned route would pass through Saudi Arabia and Israel. From there goods would be shipped to Europe. Which port is India thinking of? While Gaza was part of the Roman empire (63bc-638ad) it was an important port on the mediterranean sea. The coastline in that port of the world has few viable deep seaports. Gaza, and its port (Maiuma), was one of them.
The current conflict between Hamas and Israel makes it impossible to imagine Gaza as the preferred port. India may now question reaching the Mediterranean via Saudi Arabia and Israel. It would not be a question of political convenience or even geopolitics. It would be the extra cost of insuring such transportation. No insurance company would guarantee goods in a conflict zone, at a reasonable price.
Egypt and the Suez canal is still a viable option unless a change of regime occurred there, possibly under the influence of parties which look favourably to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Qatar and Turkey had been cut off from Modi’s trade route and so must be relieved.
However, it brings back old memories of the Roman Empire. In the sixth century, Procopius explained that trade of goods from India to Africa was disrupted by Persians and Arabs.
"For it was impossible for the Aethiopians to buy silk from the Indians, for the Persian merchants always locate themselves at the very harbours where the Indian ships first put in, (since they inhabit the adjoining country), and are accustomed to buy the whole cargoes; and it seemed to the Homeritae a difficult thing to cross a country which was a desert and which extended so far that a long time was required for the journey across it, and then to go against a people much more warlike than themselves." (Procopius De Bellis 1.20.12 Wirth)
If trade routes today were disrupted today by Iran and Gulf States, India would have to transport goods to Africa and then round Cape of Good Hope (South Africa) and reach Europe or even the United Kingdom. This was the preferred British route to India. France, Germany, Russia and the Ottoman empire during the nineteenth century had tried to open a land route to India. (for example Berlin to Baghdad train line). Turkey and China have proposed being directly connected via the Belt Road Initiative, which would bring goods from China to Europe by land.
If India found itself without a land route, it may have to circumnavigate Africa. This however would require a government in South Africa which were more favourable to India’s economic outlook.
Given that stability means ease of trade, India is clearly looking to Gaza.