The strategic role of the Red Sea for imperial communications has been evident at least since the great Indian Rebellion of 1857 – a year before construction began on the Suez Canal, a 120-mile waterway which opened a passage from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea and on to the Indian Ocean. Initially a protest by Indian soldiers against their employer, the East India Company, this anticolonial uprising took control of the old Mughal capital of Delhi and quickly spread to include peasants, artisans, and laborers. Yet appeals by British colonial administrators for reinforcements, sent from Kolkata (Calcutta) on May 18, 1857 and thenceforth conveyed by both ships and telegraphs, reached London only on June 27th – a period of 40 days. This interval was sufficient for the rebellion to sweep through much of northwestern, north and central India, and to ramify across British colonies from Ireland to New Zealand. Savage military reprisals put down the rising; and, in early 1858, the English government signed a fifty-year contract with the new Red Sea and India Telegraph Company to lay a cable to speed communications between England and its South Asian colony.
This particular subsea cable failed, but within just fifteen years repeated improvements made it feasible to send a telegram from England to India in only a few hours. And the strategic significance of the Red Sea route for imperial communications and, indeed, for imperialism more generally, had been amply demonstrated. For many decades to come, this area of the Middle East would intertwine communications, empire, colonial domination – and anticolonial resistance.
Within the wider context of the inter-imperialist conflict that engulfed the world in war in 1914, the British government was determined to extend and consolidate its occupation of territory in the Middle East. British strategy revolved around military campaigns against the Ottoman Empire and Germany, struggles with France, selective alliances with Arab peoples and, crucially, support for Zionism, a political movement seeking to colonize Palestine – a region inhabited by Christians, Jews, and (mostly) Muslims under Ottoman rule.
In affirming the artfully crafted Balfour Declaration of 1917 (named for the then British foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour), Britain declared its official support for “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. This was, however, not an act of benevolence. The government understood, in the words of a contemporary British leader, that control of Palestine “gives the controller the essential strategic and economic mastery of the communications between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean, between Asia and Africa.”
Britain lent support to the Zionist project to wrest for Britain itself informal dominance – to keep the region out of the hands of its imperial rivals, Germany and especially France. Jerusalem is separated from Port Said – the entrance to the Suez Canal – by a distance of about 170 miles by air and 475 miles by road. Palestine offered a strategic base not only for projecting force over the Suez Canal, but also for commanding trade routes and ensuring access to the vast oil wealth of what is now Iraq. Following World War I Britain gained legitimacy for its program when it was granted a mandate for administering Palestine by the League of Nations – a measure supported by the US.
For the Palestinian people, as had been forecast two decades earlier when Zionism was coalescing into a political force, all of this was predicated on violence. Palestinians repeatedly resisted large-scale Jewish colonization. And when, in 1948, Britain’s mandate ended and the state of Israel was established, the first major Arab-Israeli War at once commenced – killing and displacing tens of thousands of Palestinians. Palestinians call it the Nakba, or “catastrophe.”
Global capitalism meanwhile continued to mutate and, as the United States took over from Britain as the foremost global and regional power, the character of imperialism also changed – from a tendency to territorial occupation to control over exports of capital and the international circulation of commodities. This only added to the importance of the Red Sea communications route. Submarine cables had long been backbones for the transnational circulation of corporate information; after World War II they began to form the infrastructure of digital capitalism.
In order for data to travel to and from Europe through the Middle East to Asia, Egypt has offered a superior route. Geographically, it is the shortest and most economic path between the Mediterranean and India (this was one reason the Suez Canal was created). And Egypt has also constituted a preferred political option – apart from during its nationalist years under Gamal Abdel Nasser between 1952 and 1970 – because it has been a client state of the US.
Egypt thus ultimately emerged as a major chokepoint for the internet and perhaps its most endangered location. By 2022, sixteen submarine cables, “which are often no thicker than a hosepipe and are vulnerable to damage from ships’ anchors and earthquakes…pass 1,200 miles through the Red Sea before they hop over land in Egypt and get to the Mediterranean Sea, connecting Europe to Asia.”  Almost 17% of global internet traffic depends entirely on this 100 mile territorial cable segment traversing Egypt.
For this reason, but also owing to changing political-economic and strategic factors, the region’s telecommunications market is being altered. As one industry analyst observes, diversification and redundancy of routes are vital issues. As well, however, Saudi Arabia and Israel are actively building alternative routes throughout the region and cable builders are seeking better ways to serve the rapidly growing demands for bandwidth within the burgeoning Gulf region market. Taking stock of these new regional and global dynamics requires brief elaboration.
One important signal of structural change was expressed in the Trump Administration’s Abraham Accords of 2020 – a set of bilateral agreements between Israel, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to promote free trade and economic integration in the region.Shortly thereafter, Morocco and Sudan also signed the Accords, and publicly normalized their relationships with Israel.
For Israel, political and economic normalization with neighboring Arab nations helped to legitimize it, and its occupation of Palestine, among Arab states. For their part, Arab signatories sought to boost economic opportunities with Israel and to integrate into US security arrangements. The US, finally – including the subsequent Biden Administration – wished to reconsolidate its regional influence, countering Russia, Iran, and China, which was becoming a significant economic and increasingly a political force there. The attempt was to realign the Middle East around altered US priorities, with Israel at the center of the new settlement.
There are, however, wider issues at stake. At the G20 Summit in New Delhi, India in September 2023, the United States, France, Germany, India, Italy, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and European Union launched a trade initiative called the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC). According to a White House Memorandum, IMEC actually boasts two separate corridors. The east one connects India to the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Israel, and the northern one links those Middle Eastern countries to Europe. IMEC was engineered by the US to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). However, as Vijay Prashad has underlined, this project hinges on the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. And indeed, in responding to the violence in Gaza on October 7 set off by Hamas’ surprise assault on Israel, President Joe Biden suggested that Hamas’ intention was to disrupt this selfsame normalization of relations.
As a result of Israel’s horrific bombardments of civilians in Gaza, it has become very unlikely that Saudi Arabia will sign the Abraham Accords anytime soon – throwing a monkey-wrench into US plans for a new diplomatic settlement. However, events on the ground are outpacing diplomacy. US tech companies have been moving to construct submarine cables that link Saudi Arabia directly to Israel.
One such submarine cable is US tech giant Google’s Blue-Raman, another is the Trans-Europe Asia System (TEAS) being constructed by a New Jersey-based Telecom company called Cinturion. This is the first time in decades that Israel has been incorporated into the regional infrastructure. Both cables link the Middle East with southern Europe and India, in line with the Abraham Accords and anticipating IMEC.
Google’s Blue and Raman segments combined are a roughly 12,000 km cable project. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Google is partnering on the western Blue portion of the network with Sparkle, a subsidiary of Telecom Italia, while the Raman portion is being developed with Omani telecom company Omantel.
The Blue part of the cable is expected to be completed in 2023 and starts from Genoa, Italy, heads across France, Greece, and the Mediterranean Sea to Israel, before reaching Aqaba in Jordan. The Raman segment is scheduled to be completed in 2024 and will start in Jordan, crossing Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, and Oman before terminating in India. Technically, the two systems could easily be a single cable, but they haven’t yet connected for geopolitical reasons since Saudi Arabia hasn’t signed the Abraham Accords.
Cinturion is constructing the Trans Europe Asia System (TEAS) cable that will link Israel directly with the Arab countries that have signed the Abraham Accords as well as Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The TEAS cable is split into two lines bisecting the Arabian Peninsula. The north cable connects Italy, Greece, Israel, and Jordan, running through the territory of Saudi Arabia and ending in Mumbai, India. The southern line starts in France, passing through Israel and Jordan, and going through the Red Sea to India. Through this techno-economic project, Israel and Saudi Arabia are again quietly setting the stage for normalization.
TEAS is backed by Israel’s investment fund Keystone which has a 25 percent stake, the Saudi-based Gulf Cooperation Council Interconnection Authority (GCCIA), which is jointly owned by the six GCC member states, a New York-based investment firm, Stonecourt Capital, and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) – a member of the World Bank Group. Keystone CEO Navot Bar, in an interview with Globes, states that former senior officers in the US Army are involved in the project.
The construction of Google’s Blue Raman and Cinturion’s TEAS has not been haphazard. Rather, it is part of the US’s political project to lay the groundwork for the creation of a new bloc combining Israel, the Arab regimes, Europe and India together, under US coordination, to serve as a counter to China.
As mentioned already, however, the wiring up of this strategic region is no longer only about improving communications between Europe and Asia. For Google, Israel has become a strategic market in its own right – a US ally with a burgeoning tech sector, which accounts for more than 18% of Israel’s GDP as of 2022. In 2021, Google and Amazon were jointly awarded the building of “Project Nimbus” for the Israeli government and military. The Intercept reported that Google is arming Israel as it will provide AI and machine learning technologies to the Israeli military as part of the project.
Google already has two R&D centers in Israel – one in the city of Haifa located to the north of the Gaza Strip border, and the other one in Tel Aviv – as well as three data centers in Petah Tikva, Modi’in, and Bnei Zion. Google also is in the process of building a fourth one in Beit Yehoshua. Google’s cables will link up these data centers to serve its various business interests in Israel and the region.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is pouring billions of dollars into building its own massive ICT infrastructure, from data centers to fiber optic cables, as it is trying to transform itself from an oil country to a global IT hub for the Middle East. Under its Vision 2030 plan, Saudi Arabia is investing in a $500 billion project called “Neom” – an entire planned city. The city is located in northwestern Saudi Arabia, across the Gulf of Aqaba from Egypt. Saudi Arabia wants to exploit Google’s cables for Neom and to draw in other multinational tech companies, too.
The US’s staunch support for Israel’s bombing and invasion of Gaza in the name of its right to “self-defense” is a risky gambit: This barbaric response to Hamas’s October 7 assault threatens to up-end much of the US program for a new regional settlement.
Protests have swept across Egypt, Turkey, Algeria, Jordan, and Yemen; popular anger in Pakistan is feeding into electoral politics there. Support for the Palestinians has been so strong and vocal that Arab leaders in the Middle East have felt it necessary to pull back from their public rapprochement with Israel. They are responding to public opinion not because they are democratic states, but because they fear they may lose their domestic legitimacy. Might one or another of these countries experience a new Arab Spring – a regime challenge? Turkey, Jordan, Bahrain and Chad (as well as states outside the region) have recalled their ambassadors to Israel. Millions of people around the world, including in the US, have flooded into the streets demanding a ceasefire in Gaza and condemning the U.S. government’s unconditional support for Israel.
Even as US ideological power has been weakened across the globe – and as President Biden’s support for Israel has persisted without qualification – the US has been attempting to deploy its vast public relations machinery to shore up its and Israel’s image. The Thanksgiving exchange of hostages constitutes a prime example.
Google’s cables haven’t been completed yet, and Cinturion is still working on its partnership with hosting countries’ telecom companies. Behind closed doors, the US government, Google, and Cinturion will try to save their political economic project. However, with the war on Gaza and popular resistance to it still real, and with unstable geopolitical dynamics in the region, these cables might have to be rerouted or even shelved – unless they can be deliberately kept out of sight of the populations calling for justice for Palestine. Yet another sign that our geopolitical economy is now swiftly veering off its longstanding axis.
— ShinJoung Yeo and Dan Schiller
 Biswamoy Pati, ed., The 1857 Rebellion: Debates in Indian History and Society (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2007), xiii.
 Daniel R. Headrick, The Invisible Weapon: Telecommunications and International Politics, 1851-1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991),19-20, 22, 24.
 Rashid Khalidi, The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917–2017 (New York: Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, 2020); James Barr, A Line in the Sand: The Anglo-French Struggle for the 3 Middle East, 1914-1948 (New York: W.W. Norton, 2012); Bernard Regan, The Balfour Declaration: Empire, the Mandate and Resistance in Palestine (London; New York: Verso, 2017).
 William Ormsby-Gore,14 June 1917 quoted in Bernard Reagan, The Balfour Declaration: Empire, the Mandate and Resistance in Palestine (London; New York: Verso, 2017), 30.
 Bernard Regan, The Balfour Declaration: Empire, the Mandate and Resistance in Palestine (London; New York: Verso, 2017),).
 Dan Schiller, “Geopolitical-economic conflict and network infrastructures,” Chinese Journal of Communication 4, no.1 (March 2011): 90–107
 Matt Burgess, “Why Egypt Became One of the Biggest Choke Points for Internet Cables,” ArsTechnica, November 3, 2022.
 Joel Beinin, “The US-Israeli Alliance,” In Joel Beinin, Bassam Haddad and Sherene Seikaly, Eds., A Critical Political Economy of the Middle East and North Africa (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2021), 213-14.
 Vijay Prashad, “How War on Gaza Has Stalled India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor,” NEWSclick, November 10, 2023.
 “Hamas attack aimed to disrupt Saudi-Israel normalization, Biden says,” Reuters, October 20, 2023.
Amital Ziv, “Israel to Play Key Role in Giant Google Fiber Optic,” Haaretz, April, 14, 2020; Rory Jones and Drew FizGerald, “Google Plans Fiber-Optic Network to Connect Via Saudi Arabia and Israel for First Time,” Wall Street Journal, November 23, 2020.
 Winston Qui, “Google’s Blue-Raman Cable to Create New Eurasia Route across Israel,” Submarine Cable Network, April 15, 2020.
 Gad Perez, “Keystone buys 25% of Europe to India fiber-optic project,” Globes, January 4, 2021.
 Sam Biddle, “Google and Amazon face shareholder Revolt over Israel defense work,” Intercept, May 18, 2022.
 “Israel Hopes New Data Cables Can Make Friends of Former Enemies.” The Economist, March 5, 2022.