Israel and Saudi Arabia agree on disputed Red Sea islands
The Jewish state has agreed to the transfer of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia in return for access to Saudi airspace to shorten flight times with the Far East. This is a “mall step” for the gradual rapprochement between the two countries.
Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Israel has agreed to the transfer of two Red Sea islands from Egypt to Saudi Arabia in return for the right of Israeli planes to use Saudi airspace. The agreement will put an end to the dispute over who owns the islands.
According to Israel Hayom, the Israeli government agreed to transfer of the islands of Tiran and Sanafir, located at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, from Egypt to Saudi Arabia. The official transfer will take place during US President Joe Biden's visit to the region later this month.
In return, Saudi Arabia is expected to open its airspace to Israeli planes, thus boosting the process of rapprochement between the Jewish state and its southern neighbours in the wake of the Abraham Accords and “shorten[ing] flight time from Israel and the Far East.”
In order to approve the handover, Israel asked for a number of guarantees from Saudi Arabia, most notably freedom for military and civil navigation in the Strait of Tiran. The Saudis have agreed to that but have rejected Israel’s request to allow Muslim pilgrims to travel directly from Israel to Makkah.
"Saudi Arabia is not ready to take this leap that the UAE and Bahrain took,” Israeli officials are quoted as saying.
“It will take time, it is more slow and more conservative, and it is doubtful that we will witness full relations before the transfer of power from King Salman to his son, Muhammad Bin Salman," they added.
Still, although the historic agreement is a “small step”, [. . .] gradually, there will be more steps until the process matures”.
In 2016 Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi promised Tiran and Sanafir during an official visit to Saudi Arabia in exchange for billions of dollars in aid.
The decision proved highly controversial in Egypt, triggering protests by nationalists against what they see as a violation of the country’s constitution and territorial integrity. Eventually, the case ended in a Cairo courtroom.
The two islands in question are barren, uninhabited and without resources but in a strategic location for shipping up and down the Red Sea.
Granted by Saudi Arabia to Egypt, these two islands played a role in Arab-Israeli wars, making it easy to bock Israeli ships.
Israel occupied them when it seized the Sinai during the Six Day War and held them until the Camp David peace agreements between Israel and Egypt came into effect.
Article 5 of the agreements expressly states that the islands shall not host any military presence or be used to prevent the free movement of ships.