Highway for Peace Trucks
By: Arif Alwan
This proposal entails establishing a trade route. This will start in Beirut, go to Haifa in Israel, go down to Nablus in West Bank, and then go via Amman in Jordan.
It will then cross the Northern borders of Saudi
Arabia at Mujamma Al-Hadeetha then go to Aldammam and
will end in Abu Dhabi.
This project has two goals:
this route would enable new trading relationships it would represent a tangible
step towards real peace in the area.
the only export route to the East for Lebanon
is through Syria.
This gives Syria undue
influence over Lebanon.
These exports are worth $2bn a year. Creating an alternative trade route, which
does not involve Syria,
would significantly mitigate this influence.
We will illustrate the geographical details of the project along with
the economical benefits to the five countries this route will cross.
To the best of my knowledge this proposal is relatively new at this
critical stage in the Middle East peace
process. However, if someone else has
proposed this idea, then this article should be considered as moral support for
those who have long been trying to find ways for a real peace in the area.
Comprehensive peace between Arabs and Israelis remains one of the most
complex issues of our time. Denial of the existence of Israel looks
like a ‘psychological therapy’ for Arabs. Probably, to justify their failure in
achieving any kind of superiority over a small country that has established in
the same period of time in which most of the Arab countries have been
A noticeable change happened in 1973, when Egypt
signed a peace treaty with Israel
after the war of 1973. Jordan then
signed a similar treaty in 1994. Yet, due to the lack of a comprehensive peace
treaty tension and hostility between Arabs and Israelis still exists to this
day and affecting the stability of the whole Middle East. This stalemate has cast a dark shadow over
the entire Arab world, including Egypt
with the following implications:
Totalitarian regimes have strengthened their roots
in the area.
Political and then, religious fanatics have
widened their influence throughout the area (and the world).
Huge amounts of money were allocated worldwide for
defence and intelligence, instead of for social development or education, for
It is worth noting that after the war of 1973, as the machine guns have
emptied its powder on the Egyptian and Jordanian borders with Israel, both countries returned their occupied
lands and signed peace treaties with Israel. While the Syrian enjoyed a
deep sleep next to their weapons for over 35 years, leaving the Lebanese front
to be a great source of tense between Arabs and Israelis.
The question that needs to be addressed here is: Lebanon has neither a properly equipped army nor
land occupied by Israel.
How has such a country become a source of tension in a war against Israel, which
it seems to have been dragged into?
The Lebanese have been dragged into a war that was imposed upon
them. The Israeli army entered the
Lebanese territories on two occasions. The first was to banish the militia of
PLO in 1982. The second was in response to the killing of a number of their
solders and the kidnapping of two others by Hezbollah in 2006. In the two incidents, Southern Lebanon and
large parts of Beirut
were severely damaged. According to Mr. Hassan Nasrullah’s speech on the 8th of May 2008, in
the latter incident, 1200 Lebanese were killed and 200 thousand houses were
destroyed, leaving more than a million people displaced.
[RH1][RH1]The Lebanese economy depends
heavily on exporting fruits, vegetables, honey, plastic and textiles to Arab
countries like Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE
among others. The only available crossing points to this active market are
located on the Syrian borders. This is due to a Syrian decree, supported by the
Arab League, which forces Lebanon
to stay in a war-like status with Israel. Although Arabs are trying to believe that Syria is doing this for purely nationalistic
reasons, this policy of rejecting the peace with Israel
has two hidden benefits for Syria,
Blackmailing the Lebanese government to give Syria a portion
of its business transactions and investment projects.
Pressurising the Lebanese to submit to the Syrian
dream of joining Lebanon to Syria.
gained its independence in 1946, the Syrian borders have been closed many times
to Lebanese hauliers, thus paralysing the trade
movement. Even under the rule of Mr. Kamil Shemouon, who is considered
to be the most antagonistic towards Syria,
as well as during Mr. Seniora’s cabinet, which is
arguably the strongest in opposition to the Syrian regime, Damascus managed to get what it wanted by
playing the border-closure card. Thus,
for decades Lebanon
remains to rely on the Syrian borders for its exports. To illustrate, after the
war between Hezbollah and Israel
in July 2006, Syria was able
to force Lebanon to allow
Iranian weapons to be transported through its territory to Hezbollah via Syria. Not
cooperating would have resulted in Syria closing its borders.
The Lebanese economic sector gets anxious every time Syria threatens
to close its borders.
On the 22nd of June 2007, the Syrian vice president, Mr. Farooq Al-Sharaa threatened Mr. Seniora with the closure of the Syrian borders. This was
unless the Lebanese government rejected the decision of the Security Council
regarding the deployment of international forces along the Lebanese-Syrian
borders, in order to prevent Iranian weapons being smuggled to Hezbollah. As a
result, the decision was rejected.
Two unexpected developments
While working on this research, two significant events took place:
Mr. Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister unveiled a year long of
peace talks has took place between Israel
and Syria via Turkey, despite Syria’s denial of such talks.
After being put on-holt for more than six months, Syria gave its
Lebanese ally the go-ahead to elect General Michel Sulaiman
On the face of it Syria
is working towards resolving the Lebanese crisis. However, this should not be
seen as Syria conceding its
control over Lebanon.
I believe it is important to point out that, even if Syria
accepted the Israeli condition of retracting its support of Hamas
and Hezbollah, Syria
still has other means to inflame the situation in Lebanon, whether there is cautious
stability for one year or ten years. For instance, Syria
has influence through Lebanese and Palestinian organisations, such as the Syrian
Social Nationalist party (SSNP) in Lebanon, the Palestinian Liberation
Front, which is a Syrian organisation with a Palestinian guise, Jund Alsham (Sham Soldiers),
amongst other small Lebanese groups. Even if Syria
claims that these groups are no longer active, Lebanon has no way of knowing this
In addition, even if Syria
signed a peace treaty with Israel,
it would not be in its interests to allow Lebanon
to sign a similar one, as it would want to keep the crossing tariffs and other
benefits flowing to the Syrian treasury, as long as the Lebanese remain
dependant on Syria.
It is also worth highlighting that it is likely that Damascus
has chosen the peace negotiation in this particular instance to free itself
from the strategic coalition with Tehran,
in which each party is obliged to stand by each other if subjected to military
attack. This means that Syria could be dragged into a war against Israel if Iran
was attacked by the USA.
will continue to be subjected to Syrian abuse and threats of blackmail as long
as its crucial export points are under control.
The Suggested Route … Shorter and Faster
The Gulf States
become upset when the crossing points on the Lebanese-Syrian borders are
disturbed. In most instances, the Gulf
States declare their dissatisfaction in various ways,
whether in an official statement or by introducing initiatives that may help to
overcome logistical problems. On the 23rd
of July 2005, for example, UAE announced its willingness to send cargo ships to
to transfer Lebanese goods that were detained on Syrian borders. This was to
express their solidarity and support to the new government and an attempt to
prevent the Lebanese economy from falling into a recession. The same sources said that other Gulf States might follow Abu Dhabi’s
example by sending private cargo ships to transfer Lebanese products to their
final destinations in Iraq, Jordan and the
In light of these positive gestures, we cannot dismiss the idea that
fair and enduring initiatives could emerge from the Gulf States to resolve this problem.
Historically, there was a long coastal route linking Lebanon to Palestine
The route was built by the Phoenicians and was later restored by the Pharaohs.
The Romans then stone-paved it and this was later restored by the Bezants. In those periods, this route has been used
for trade and military purposes. At that time, Lebanese products such as cedar
wood, honey and seeds were transported to Palestine,
Egypt and the Arab Peninsula
continuously. In the past, empires did not resort to closing the trade routes
because such an action was considered to be morally wrong.
Yet, this route still exists and was partially restored to become
suitable for transportation.
the former PM, Rafiq Al-Hareeri
built a highway between Tire and Beirut
on top of the existing old route.
the route was restored and a new coastal highway, which ends at Haifa
has also been built in parallel to it.
The old route continues until the Israeli borders with Gaza.
Based on estimate calculations using Google Earth, I have found that
the route currently used by Lebanese hauliers, which
goes via Syria and Iraq to Al-Dammam in Saudi Arabia,
is about 1849 km, while the suggested route is about 1427km, which is 422 km
less. Moreover, the current Damascus-Dammam route crosses two countries, Syria and Iraq, which are known for their
unstable regimes. The suggested route is safer because it goes through stable
countries with considerably higher moral standards governing their relations
with their neighbours and the rest of the world.
Thus, the suggested route will head towards Haifa
to pass Northern Nablus, down to Jordan and through King Hussain
Bridge via road numbers
(40, 25, and 60). It then moves down South, connecting to road number (85) at
the Northern borders of Saudi
Arabia and ends in Al-Dammam.
From there, it goes straight down to Abu Dhabi in UAE (985 km), which is the
same route used by the hauliers to get to the Gulf
Now, the question that an Arab country may raise is: Can Lebanese
products be transported to the West Bank via Israel?
The answer is, simply, “Why not?”
Qatar has established normal
relations with Israel
without the need for a peace treaty. North Korea
opened its Southern borders with South Korea to allow citizens from
both countries to visit each other. It then allowed goods and humanitarian aid
to cross the border, which again, occurred without a peace deal between the two
In the case of Lebanon:
1. It is
legitimate for the Lebanese Republic to obtain a transit treaty with the state of
before ending the war status between the two countries. Any deal of this kind
could form a positive step towards peace.
Israel, at the very
beginning of its establishment, has already shown its willingness to consider
giving the Arabs transit rights in the Israeli ports and to facilitate flexible
trade movements for Jordanian products in Haifa.
treaties are usually made between countries that have military conflict on
their borders. Lebanese and Israeli
armies never met head-on in the war of 1948, except in the incident of Malkia, a Lebanese village that was occupied by Israel. In that incident, volunteers from the 3rd
Sniper Regiment were sent to join other Arab forces in various battles. Then,
during the cease-fire, several shooting incidents took place from the Lebanese
territories towards Israel.
The Lebanese army was not involved in these incidents. It is believed that these attacks were
launched by militias that Syria
more recently) was responsible for.
Security Council highlights these incidents in accurate documents.
4. It is
legitimate for Arab countries that have no borders with Israel to establish diplomatic relations with Israel without
being involved in a peace treaty. It is
also acceptable to include Saudi
Arabia and UAE because the suggested route
will pass through their territories.
Furthermore, the current state of tension is the outcome of a hasty
decision made by the Arab League, in which it considers all Arab countries in a
war with Israel,
to continue rejecting any kind of independence for the original habitants of
the area and its fringes.
Accordingly, important Arab countries like Saudi
UAE and Jordan
courageously rejected the Syrian attitude of deteriorating the Lebanese
The same countries, with putting aside the wrong inherited concepts
about the relations between Arabs and Jews that has dominated the area in the
past, could, again, support this promising project, because it would not only
benefit Lebanon, rather it would be extended to the West Bank, Jordan, and the
Northern parts of Saudi Arabia, as is explained in the next section of this
Giant Investment Companies
The refrigerated trucks can travel from Beirut
to Dammam (1527km) via Nablus in Palestine,
in two days. This includes 8 hours of breaks for the driver at any of the 20
service stations that could be built on the route to Abu Dhabi. This would employ about 450-500
workers, or 25 workers in each service station on average.
The highway which, from now on will be known as the Beirut Line, passes
through vast areas in 6 countries. Some of these are farmed by individuals, as
in Lebanon, Israel and the West Bank,
while other areas are still waste land, which could be utilised by digging
wells and creating large farms, which could be established by Arab or foreign
consortium investment companies.
The meadows and dales in Lebanon,
Israel, the West Bank and
Western parts of Jordan
are known for their high fertility, and are used to produce fruit, vegetables,
olives and various types of seeds. While the lands in Saudi Arabia and the East
of Jordan are mainly flat deserts, with some rocky and solid areas that can be
used to produce other crops, depending on the availability of wells and
Consequently, the establishment of this transport route for goods and
people will be beneficial to all participating countries. Eventually, it would
also be conceivable for Egypt
to join this project and to export its products via the Rafah-Gaza-Rammallah
route and linking it to the Beirut Line at King Hussain
Bridge. Thus, Gaza
will also be able to export its seasonal products, such as flowers, fruit and
vegetables to the Gulf States.
In the past 10 years, the car industry has developed rapidly, achieving
great advances in the fields of safety and luxury. This progress has boosted
‘family tourism’ between neighbouring countries in the Middle
East. It is believed that this international route which would
have modern facilities for passengers and hauliers
would stimulate economic growth along the Beirut Line. Therefore, thousands of
large families in the Gulf would tour Middle Eastern and Mediterranean
countries by car, and vice versa, Mediterraneans
would have another way to explore the Gulf and the Middle
Consequently, the Beirut Line would contribute significantly to
strengthening various industries in the Middle East
such as tourism, agriculture, insurance and other services. This line could be as important to the area
as the Rome-Switzerland and the London-Paris-Brussels lines are in their
Two Implementation Forms
There are two ways to implement this proposed project.
of the involved countries will construct its own part of the route according to
international standards, while considering the elements that may be required
such as bridges, tunnels, and so on, to make an uninterrupted transport link. Each of these countries will then be in
charge of maintaining the road in their territory and responsible for
collecting tolls (if any) for certain periods of time.
large investment company or a consortium, whether local or foreign will be
completely in charge of the construction and maintenance of the entire road
from Beirut to Dammam, which would include the upkeep and ownership of the
services alongside the road, according to international standards. In this case, each country could introduce a
small transit toll, until traffic levels become heavy and profitable enough for
the transit toll to be standardised.
In both forms, the project could obtain sufficient financial support,
on both a local and international level. It could be marketed as a development
project that supports the ‘Arab initiative’ and the ‘Road Map’ towards
establishing the independent state of Palestine.
Peace Treaties are not enough
Since the UN imposed a cease-fire on the Arabs and the Israelis in
1948, 17 initiatives were introduced to encourage peace between the two
sides. Of these only one was an Arabic
initiative, which was proposed on the 21st of April 1965 by Mr. Al-Habeeb Bu Rgaiba, the former
Tunisian president. This upset the Arabs and resulted in them cutting ties with
Tunisia. The Israelis introduced two peace initiatives
which the Arabs also rejected.
In Beirut in 2002, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia introduced the first comprehensive
peace initiative between the Arab nations and Israel. This initiative was accepted by all the Arab
countries including Syria,
which later began undermining the project.
The project has also gained international support from the USA, Europe, Russia
Israel was seeking ‘normalization’
with the Arabs in every peace initiative. This is an understandable because any
peace treaty that does not have economic and cultural backing will not
withstand the test of time. In other
words, those who would benefit more from war than from peace could eventually
thwart this type of treaty in one way or another. Most, if not all of Syria’s economic benefits, regional relations
and interior security are dependant on the no-war-no-peace situation with Israel.
Therefore, King Abdullah’s initiative took into consideration Israel’s need
to be acknowledged, in addition to satisfying the Arab nations’ longing for
peace and stability.
By launching his initiative from Lebanon,
it is conceivable that the Saudi leader wanted to highlight the fact that Syria’s
attempts to incite tension on the Lebanese-Israeli border, neither represents
the Arab nations’ will, nor reflects their genuine desire for peace. This is
despite the fact that the Arab league leader believes Ahmadi
Najad’s call to eliminate Israel
and naively hopes that the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah coalition will liberate Palestine. In light of
these indications, I believe that the leaders of Saudi
and UAE will be able to appreciate the importance of establishing the Beirut
Line across their territory for the following reasons.
would support King Abdullah’s initiative for peace in the Middle
would stimulate the economies of the countries through which the line would
pass, in addition to creating thousands of jobs for people in the West Bank, Jordan and Lebanon.
would ensure Lebanon’s
ALESCO, Report 8th Jan 2008-06-15[RH2][RH2]
Lebanese Daily Star http://syria-news.com/readnews.php?sy_seq=56861
Arab League http://www.sfhty.com/sfhat.php?rkmalsfhh=11041&tid=25562
dream to Lebanon
Syria claims that Lebanon was
part of its territory, yet past as well as current history disproves such bold
claims. There is a distinct lack of
unity between the two countries throughout history. Conversely, the Lebanese (Phoenicians
3000-2500 B.C.) established a free state on the Eastern coast of the
Mediterranean Sea, which later became the empire that conquered Northern Africa
and Southern Europe. At the same time,
Syrian territories were captured by different empires that have invaded and
occupied the remainder of the area between the period of Alexander the Great
and the Ottoman occupation. During that
time, the Assyrians, the Greeks, the Romans and the Byzantines consecutively
The Arabs only entered Syria
after the Islamic invasion in 636 A.C. when the fertile lands were distributed
to the leaders of the Muslim army and the poorer quality lands were given to
the solders. This event was followed by
large-scale immigration from the Arabian Peninsula
to the new territories.
The Phoenicians settled near the Lebanese coast and mountains due to
the influx of immigrants arriving from the East of the Arabian
Peninsula (3000-2500 B.C.). While the Assyrians- from which the
name Syria has been derived,
- came from Northern Iraq to conquer Syria and to add it to their empire
(1800-699 B.C.). Ultimately, they took
all the dales surrounding Damascus,
including parts of the coastal heights.
was never independent before 1946, when the French withdrew from the area after
World War II in 1945, which was when new borders were drawn to form the current
map of the region.
In the Old Testament, there is no mention of ‘Syria’, rather, it is referred to as the
‘Aramaic land’, while ‘Lebanon’
is mentioned 18 times.
As a matter of fact, nations usually reflect their people’s thoughts;
therefore, some of them discount the parts of history that do not support their
ambitions. Thus, they end up fabricating their own version of history. Syria’s claim that Lebanon
is part of the Levant country is simply untrue, because Levant or ‘Sham’ is the
Arabic name for Damascus.
According to several references, this refers to Sam, Noah’s son who built Damascus.
The social and cultural differences between the people of the two
countries are apparent for the people who live there. One can easily
distinguish the Lebanese by their Northern and Eastern
Mediterranean cultural influences and the ability to reflect it in
an innovative development.
Therefore, we should not be sidetracked by Syria’s claims about their
relationship with the Lebanese, or pay too much attention to these
unsubstantiated claims. It is unfortunate that these misrepresentations are all
too common in the Middle East. Instead, we will work on Lebanon’s
weaknesses in an attempt to end this conflict.