||Chapter 2 Gulf of Aqaba|
Created by seismic activity along the Afro-Syrian Rift, the Gulf of Aqaba is a deep narrow body of water, bordered by Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia and is one of the hinges connecting the Asian and African continents. The gulf extends 180 km from Eilat and Aqaba and joins the Red Sea at the Straits of Tiran, with its widest point spanning 28 km. Israel’s gulf shore extends only a few kilometers, from the city of Eilat to the border with Egypt at Taba. Jordan’s shore reaches some 20 km in length, extending to the Saudi border opposite Marsa al Muqabila in northern Sinai. Egypt enjoys the longest gulf border, which stretches some 170 km between Taba and the Straits of Tiran.
The Gulf of Aqaba is a natural transshipment area. Proposals to enhance the areas capacity as a logistic gateway between Asia, Europe and Africa on an international scale and between the Maghreb countries and Persian Gulf on a regional scale, have been presented by the Jordanian, Israeli and Egyptian governments. These proposals include upgrading the Port of Aqaba and road access to it, establishing an inland port logistic center connecting transport, manufacturing and storage facilities in the Aqaba-Eilat region, creating international passenger and commercial airports at Aqaba/Ein Evrona and Ras el Naqeb, establishing border and trans-border production zones at Eilat/Aqaba and Ras el Naqeb, and extending rail service between Red and Mediterranean sea ports.
Israel’s southern-most city, Eilat is situated at the junction of the JRV with the Gulf of Aqaba, and borders on Jordan and Egypt (Taba). The rich underwater life in the gulf, and its strategic location at the intersection of two deserts – Sinai and Arava – make Eilat a notable seaside resort with a year-round tourist season. Many of the city’s 40,000 residents are employed in the various tourism and tourism-related industries, while the construction industry works overtime to keep pace with the ever-increasing number of visitors. It is anticipated that the city’s 6,600 hotel rooms in 1995 will increase by 150% in the coming years, as will the number of non-hotel accommodation facilities. Eilat is the most highly developed urban center which offers a number of tourism attractions and amenities, such as restaurants, night clubs, water and other sports facilities and site-seeing programs. A comprehensive development plan for the Eilat and Eilot strip region was recently elaborated. The plan includes proposals for unilateral projects as well as bilateral projects with the Kingdom of Jordan Some of the projects described below are included in this plan.
Located across the Gulf of Aqaba from Eilat, Aqaba is Jordan’s only outlet to the sea and a transport hub to the Gulf countries. The Aqaba sea and airports comprise focal points for the development a major regional and international logistic center. In addition, Aqaba is being primed as one of Jordans primary industrial centers, with several key heavy industries planned for the south and the desert northeast of the city and light manufacturing, assembly and processesing plants for the northwest section, near the airport.
While Aqaba presently offers more than 1,100 hotel rooms, plans are underway to increase the city’s tourist facilities. Jordan has major development plans for tourism in Aqaba, particularly in the area south of the city center. Jordan also plans to enhance the tourism capacity and products in Petra and Wadi Rum.
Taba is the border crossing between Israel and Egypt on the Gulf of Aqaba. The area boasts a hotel and casino, and an airport located at the nearby Ras-el-Naqab. With the development of tourist services, a passenger and cargo terminal and accompanying commercial facilities, the Ras el Naqeb area could be developed as a free trade and processing zone. Plans exist for vast development of tourist facilities in the Taba region within three development centers between the border and Ras Bourka. Development will also include new town centers at the border and Moqbela/Al Homayra, a world-class casino, golf courses and marinas.
1.1. Israel-Jordan Agreement on Eilat-Aqaba Special Area
An Agreement on Special Arrangements for Aqaba and Eilat between Israel and Jordan was signed in 1996. This Agreement stipulates that Israel and Jordan will cooperate on issues relating to both towns including: environmental management, pest control; flood management; town zoning and land use policies; energy and natural resources; emergency response services; and the promotion of binational and multinational events, such as music festivals, sporting evens, etc. The Agreement also calls for the establishment of a Special Tourism Zone in the region, in which cross border tourism will be encouraged by simplifying crossing procedures, a binational Special Economic Zone, and a binational Red Sea Marine Peace Park.
A special Aqaba-Eilat Working Committee has been formed to coordinate plans and activities, including border crossing procedures, sanitation and joint environmental issues, operation of the Aqaba Peace Airport, and joint R&D in desert mariculture. Arrangements are being finalized to issue a limited number (150 for each side) of multi-entry visas to facilitate passage of tourism industry and other business professionals between the two cities. Means for allowing easy passage of Jordanian workers to Eilat are also being discussed.
1.2. Taba-Eilat-Aqaba Macro Area (TEAM) Working Group
A program involving Israel, Jordan and Egypt for the coordinated development of the Gulf of Aqaba sub-region has been supported by the European Union. The Taba-Eilat-Aqaba Macro Area has been defined as follows:
- in Jordan: the administrative border of the Aqaba Region;
- in Israel: the city of Eilat, including 17 kilometers between the Jordanian and Egyptian border;
- in Egypt: The town of Taba and the triangle defined by the inland road to Ras el Naqeb and Nuweiba, including the Nuweiba seaport and Ras el Naqeb Airport.
According to the TEAM Area concept, Egypt, Israel and Jordan will continue to pursue their development objectives within their national territories. Coordinated development of the region, will complement national planning. Collaborative planning of the Gulf of Aqaba focuses on strengthening infrastructure links, coordinating environmental protection, realizing economies of scale and promoting private sector investment.
A steering committee, comprising core party representatives and chaired by the European Commission, has been set up to coordinate planning activities. Several investment proposals have been presented are under consideration:
- Land use suitability analysis: this project will provide land use suitability maps to serve as a base for sub-regional planning, with an eye to optimize land allocations for investments and preserve natural resources.
- Water and wastewater management program: the aim of this project is to ensure adequate, safe, and sustainable water supply and wastewater systems to meet higher environmental standards and future development needs.
- Various tourism projects: such as establishment of a handicraft center, a tourism management study, collaborative marketing, and development of the Old City of Aqaba. Recently the three parties agreed to appoint a Regional Tourism Development office.
- Development of a logistic center for the TEAM Area: this project concerns enhancing the competitiveness of the sub-region as a transshipment point by building additional modern logistic services.
- Special Economic Zone: this project focuses on designing a program to establish a free trade zone in the TEAM Area which would attract investment, stimulate regional trade, promote trade and assembly industries and services and create employment opportunities in the sub-region.
- Local area telecommunications network: the primary goals of this project is to enhance both local and international communication infrastructure towards increasing the competitiveness of the TEAM Area as a logistic and tourism center.