One of the most consequential changes in the Middle East's geopolitical map is happening at the water's edge. Along the entire eastern rim of the Mediterranean basin, global and regional actors are engaging in a spate of port capacity expansions, new private port construction, and the sell-off of major state-owned ports that will determine who sits atop the region's global trade flows for decades to come. The international competition to rebuild Beirut's port is one key puzzle piece in this larger process that is reconfiguring the Levant's maritime commercial architecture and, as a consequence, the geopolitical contours of the Middle East.
The possibility that the Lebanese government could opt for China to reconstruct Beirut's port has raised alarm in Washington and European capitals given China's already outsized commercial port presence in Egypt, Israel, and Greece. Increased Chinese involvement in Lebanon's port operations could consolidate Beijing's hold over the commercial connectivity architecture of the Levant. Re-orienting global commercial flows between Europe, the Middle East, and Asia according to Beijing's priorities would make China's Belt and Road Initiative a dominant organizing principle in the international relations of the Middle East. The most effective way to offset China's ambition may be to facilitate Mediterranean rivals France and Turkey to jointly rebuild Beirut's port.