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April 11, 2016 7:08 pm

Report: Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty to Undergo Changes as Saudi Arabia Enters Equation, Takes Possession of Strategic Islands in Gulf of Aqaba

avatar by Ruthie Blum

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Tiran, one of the islands that Egypt transferred to Saudi Arabia. Photo: Wikipedia.

Tiran, one of the islands that Egypt transferred to Saudi Arabia. Photo: Wikipedia.

An Egyptian newspaper reported on Monday that the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt is likely to undergo some changes due to regional developments, according to the Hebrew news site nrg.

Al-Ahram said that the reason behind this possible shift is the agreement between Egypt and Saudi Arabia on their maritime borders, signed during the Saudi king’s recent visit to Cairo. The significance of this development, which will require approval of both the Knesset and the Egyptian Parliament, is that Riyadh will become a factor in the peace treaty between Cairo and Jerusalem.

According to Al-Ahram, Israel was kept informed of the new agreement, which included the transfer to Saudi Arabia of two islands, Tiran and Sanafir, in the Gulf of Aqaba (Eilat) in the Red Sea, near the entrance to the Suez Canal.

Though this alteration of maritime borders was done with Israel’s knowledge, nrg said, it is liable to affect the terms of the 1979 peace treaty signed between late leaders Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.

The Al-Ahram report claimed, however, that Israel received a commitment from Saudi Arabia (which it defines as an enemy state) to honor the terms of that deal – among them that the islands would remain demilitarized and the maritime traffic of the Gulf of Aqaba preserved.

When asked during a press conference whether this means that Saudi Arabia is now planning to change its attitude towards and relations with Israel, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir said, “We will not sign agreements with Israel; nor will we reach arrangements with it until the Palestinian problem is finally solved, and that includes the establishment of a Palestinian state along the ’67 borders, including east Jerusalem, and a solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees.”

In light of the above, former Israeli ambassador to Egypt Zvi Mazel explained the potential dangers posed to Israel by the pact. He referred in particular to an additional agreement reached between Cairo and Riyadh during Saudi King Salman’s meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi – involving plans to build a 30-kilometer (18.6-mile) bridge near Sharm el-Sheikh in southern Sinai, extending to Ras Hamid in northern Saudi Arabia.

Mazel told nrg that this is cause for concern. “The bridge could serve as a lookout point for civil and military vessels entering Israel, and that’s not so good. In addition, the fact that the islands of Tiran and Sanafir will belong to Saudi Arabia, with which we have no peace, is a problem. In theory, Saudi Arabia could do what it wants there, even deploy forces.”

“The Egypt-Saudi agreement changes the geopolitical situation,” Mazel said. “Even if at the moment those Arab states are cooperating with us, it is problematic, in that their basic attitude to Israel has not changed. Those are countries that believe in an Islam that totally denies our presence here, so that things could deteriorate as soon as there is a crisis. In such an event, the agreement would be a negative development. On the other hand, it is true that such an agreement could move Saudi Arabia closer to Israel.”

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