The Suez Canal serves as a gateway connecting East and West. Thousands of cargo ships traverse the canal annually, carrying approximately 30% of global shipping containers. However, recent hostilities against ships in the Red Sea, attributed to Yemen’s Houthi militia, have led several shipping companies to avoid this route, significantly affecting global shipping container traffic. In response to the crisis, an Israeli company has established a “land bridge” to not only circumvent the Houthi threat but also save time.
Hanan Fridman, founder and CEO of Trucknet, which specializes in smart transportation technology and spearheaded the creation of the land bridge. Fridman spoke to The Media Line, giving a more in-depth explanation of this project.
The “land bridge,” as its name indicates, consists of a land route for the cargo to leave from either the Jebel Ali Port in the United Arab Emirates or the Port of Mina Salman in Bahrain and make its way to either the Haifa Port in Israel or Port Said in Egypt, passing on land through Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
Fridman explained that Trucknet, established in 2016, arose from a need to address logistic inefficiencies in the land cargo shipping industry. He noted that, according to studies, at any given moment, 30% of the trucks on the road worldwide are empty when they travel. This is why his company created a solution to perform smart matching between empty trucks and available cargo. In addition, Trucknet’s technology also provides full digitalization of shipping logistics.
Collaborating with over half a million trucks in Europe, Trucknet, represented by Fridman, signed memoranda of understanding for cooperation with Bahraini and Emirati companies during his September 2023 visit to Bahrain with a delegation from Israel’s Foreign Ministry. Since then, operations in the Gulf area have been launched.
In response to the Houthi threat, Fridman saw an opportunity to use these already established relations and create a solution to bypass the security threat in the main maritime artery of trade between the East and the West. “When you have a crisis, you need to create efficiency,” Fridman told The Media Line.
The Houthis involvement in shipping issues
Since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7, the Houthi militia in Yemen has been actively participating by constantly launching rocket and drone attacks against Israel. As part of its offensive, the Houthis have also attacked several commercial vessels sailing close to its coasts in the Red Sea, even those ships that have no link to Israel. The United States attempted to create a naval coalition that combats the threat, but many countries were reluctant to join it.
“Because of the Houthis, businesses from all over Europe asked me to bring solutions to the table. I took advantage of the POC [proof of concept] that we worked toward in the last five months and all our relationships in the area to put a solution on the table,” Fridman said.
However, he clarified that while the objective is to better connect the East to West and vice versa with the land bridge, it does not intend to fully replace the Suez Canal pathway. He noted that he sees it more as an express line to be a good alternative for those who either need the delivery to be faster, or to help the traffic flow in times of crisis, such as the current situation.
Fridman explained that the trip for a container to get from the UAE to Haifa is about two weeks long given that cargo ships usually stop in various ports to unload or load cargo. But if the container is unloaded at Jebel Ali in the UAE and taken by a truck to Haifa, in only four days it can be leaving the Haifa Port on a ship on its way to Europe.
“We know how to save 10 to 12 days on every delivery from east to west or from west to east,” he said, adding that using this route could be about 10-12% more expensive.
Trucknet’s matching services will also help reduce the cost as it aims to reduce the number of trucks that travel back from Israel to the UAE empty once the container is delivered. The “Pick and Roll principle,” as Fridman calls it, is a key part of the operation.
He added that a major challenge for the land bridge solution is the insufficient capacity of the land crossing between Jordan and Israel. The Jordan River/Sheikh Hussein Crossing only has capacity for 350 trucks per day. This problem will need to be dealt with as the route grows so that the cargo will not get stuck in Jordan.
Fridman shared that once the cargo crosses into Israel, his long-term 10-year vision is to use an electric train to take the containers directly to the Haifa Port. “We started negotiations with the train company in Israel to take the cargo directly by train from Sheikh Hussein to the Haifa Port,” he said, envisioning an eventual railway connection between the UAE’s Jebel Ali Port and Israel’s Haifa Port.