In 1963, the United States developed a plan to build a canal from the Mediterranean Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba through Israel. It would become an alternative to the Suez Canal. To dig the channel, it was planned to arrange a series of nuclear explosions in the Negev desert. The project was not implemented due to fears of a negative reaction from neighboring Arab countries. Historian Alex Wellerstein recalled the idea of more than half a century ago in connection with the blocking of the Suez Canal by a grounded container ship
In the 1960s, the United States considered the creation of an artificial waterway that could serve as an alternative to the Suez Canal. It was assumed that the watercourse will pass through the territory of Israel. The American memorandum of 1963 with the corresponding project was declassified in 1996. Now historian Alex Wellerstein remembered about him, having posted a post on his Twitter.
The scientist noted that for the implementation of the plan, it would be required to use 520 atomic bombs
The memorandum was prepared by the Livermore National Laboratory. E. Lawrence (laboratory of the US Department of Energy) and envisaged the use of nuclear charges to create a channel. Explosives were given priority over the traditional method of digging, which was deemed too costly. Wellerstein calculated that for every mile (1.6 km) of the trench, four 2 megaton charges would be needed.
The length of the canal through Israel was supposed to be more than 250 km.
“Such a canal will become a valuable alternative to the Suez Canal and is likely to make a great contribution to economic development,” the memorandum said.
The document provided for several route options. One of them connected the Mediterranean Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba through the Negev Desert in Israel. Further, the ships would fall into the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. As noted by the experts of the Livermore Laboratory, the canal would pass through an almost uninhabited desert area. This, in their conclusion, made it possible to build the canal with the help of nuclear explosions.
The technological capabilities of that time made it possible to implement such a plan.
The main obstacle to the launch of the project lay in the political plane. The drafters of the memorandum expressed concern that “the Arab countries surrounding Israel will categorically object to the construction of such a channel.”
According to Forbes, a similar canal digging method was intended to be used in Central America.
Wellerstein recalled the plans of the United States almost 60 years ago in connection with a new state of emergency in the Suez Canal. On March 23, 2021, a huge container ship Ever Given ran aground and completely blocked traffic. According to initial assessments of the situation, work on unblocking the shipping route should have taken no more than two or three days. However, the problem turned out to be more serious. Most likely, the ship will be removed from the shallows within a few weeks, which will lead to economic difficulties, because the ships will have to go around Africa. At the moment, work is underway around the container ship to deepen the bottom. Special tugs are trying unsuccessfully to pull the stranded vessel from the shallows.
“A modest proposal to rectify the situation with the Suez Canal,” Wellerstein commented on his tweet outlining the main provisions of the memorandum. “If I were Elon Musk , legions of fans would applaud me right now.”
The 160 km long Suez Canal was opened for shipping in 1869.
During the First and Second World Wars, traffic on it was regulated by the British. In 1956, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser announced the nationalization of the canal. In response, the United States, Great Britain and France tried to impose international control of the Suez Canal on Cairo, removing it from Egyptian sovereignty and ensuring that the channel is exploited in the interests of large foreign monopolies. This led to the Suez Crisis, causing the canal to collapse and shut down until the following year.
The Suez Canal was closed again in 1967 after the Six Day War. Subsequently, Soviet specialists took part in mine clearance after the Yom Kippur War in 1973. The canal was reopened for shipping in 1975.