Could a water canal bring calm to Gaza?

The plan to build an underground barrier along the Gaza border precludes an alternative solution that could be better

Young Palestinians advance through a tunnel during a military exercise organized by Hamas, east of Gaza City, last year (photo credit: REUTERS)
Young Palestinians advance through a tunnel during a military exercise organized by Hamas, east of Gaza City, last year
(photo credit: REUTERS)
PRIOR TO this announcement, I proposed a different idea to various authorities in Israel for accomplishing the same goal: protecting against terrorist tunnels from the Gaza Strip. My idea was simply to build a canal along the entire Israel-Gaza border.
Rather than entering into a very costly project requiring extensive construction materials, such as millions of tons of concrete, my proposal went along with the KISS principle: Keep it simple, stupid.
Dig a canal! Just dig a trench deep enough and wide enough from the northwestern border of Gaza where it meets the Mediterranean Sea, to the southernmost border of Gaza, where it meets the Egyptian border – and let it passively fill with water from the Mediterranean Sea.
The main cost would be limited to just the digging. With sufficient depth to the trench, there would be minimal costs to fill it with water because it would naturally flow in from the Mediterranean Sea due to the difference in height.
The Suez Canal at its narrowest is 60 meters wide and at its deepest is 24 meters.
This provides a rough guide as to what the job would entail. My proposal suggests a width of 200 meters and a depth of 60 meters.
The entire Gaza-Israel border extends approximately 60 km. That’s a lot of earth moving. But no new technologies are called for. Earth moving equipment that can operate on this scale has been available and in use around the world for many decades.
For political and cost reasons, the project could be accomplished in two phases.
Phase one would run along the entire Gaza-Israel border. Phase two would extend the project from its terminus at the Israel-Gaza-Egypt border in a southeasterly direction, paralleling the Israel-Egyptian/ Sinai border all the way down to Eilat and the Gulf of Aqaba. This would complete the full project of creating an alternative to the Suez Canal. Phase two could be delayed because of costs and other considerations.
The prime purpose of the canal would be to secure the Gaza-Israel border from the tunnel threat. The depth of the water barrier would create a major impediment to tunnelling. Having an enormous body of water just above any tunneling would make it a very risky undertaking. Any tunnel digging would result in immediate and massive flooding.
Egypt could partner in this project. Egypt could build a second access route to the canal that would start from its own Mediterranean shore, running parallel with its border with Gaza. This second leg would connect with the initial terminus of the Israel Canal at its phase one final location at the junction of Gaza, Egypt and Israel. Now there would be two access options for entering phase two of the canal, the long stretch from the initial terminus junction down to the Gulf of Aqaba.
The Egypt-Gaza leg would provide better protection for Egypt in Sinai by preventing free passage in both directions for terrorists and arms across the Egypt-Gaza border. This would help Egypt better secure Sinai and improve what is now an ungoverned space.
The canal need not be viewed as a competitor to the Suez Canal and thus an economic threat to Egypt. Structuring the canal in part as a joint venture would provide strategic protection for Egypt to counter any potential terrorist blockade that would render the Suez Canal inoperative. Egypt would then possess a backup canal, discouraging terrorist attempts to disrupt or block Suez. Terrorists would know their destructive acts would only result in annoyance rather than in a major disaster that completely strangles international commerce at a strategic chekepoint.
This new passageway would be highly desired and supported by all nations that depend on keeping Suez open, which is a transportation route critical to the whole world. Financial support of the project would be an attractive idea to international agencies, such as the World Bank, the IMF, and perhaps even to private sector entities, such as shipping companies and the insurance industry.
I fully acknowledge that the newly announced project of an underground concrete barrier with hi-tech sensors seems like the main defense against the tunnel threat. But it would be an unattractive project – a lot of busy construction activity with optics that are overtly military. The only visible portion of the project would be above ground, but it would amount to another tall, ugly concrete wall rising above the landscape. Images of these walls don’t play well in the world’s media. There’s no uplifting vision to it.
And there is talk about what accountants call “sunk costs.” This would be a super expensive project, literally sunk in the sands, with only one limited purpose, like a static Maginot Line. When the wars are over, God willing, such projects will retain only historical interest because they’re useless for anything else.
I like my idea better: Water is always nice to look at. A canal flowing with water uplifts the human spirit. A canal can support many peaceful uses, such as becoming a new wonder of the world, a tourist landmark, as well as a recreational destination for Israelis featuring boat rides and all kinds of water park activities. If the full project gets completed, the canal will offer flexibility for future uses, and serving as an alternative to the Suez Canal will also furnish a welcome insurance policy for international marine commerce.
Finally, it may be possible to create a hybrid project. Go ahead and build the concrete barrier, but since all the engineers, equipment and skilled labor are already there, add on the canal too. Then, all the benefits mentioned above can be enjoyed by future generations.
Dr. David Charney is a psychiatrist in the Washington, DC area. He has had a lifelong attachment to science, engineering and Israel.