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July 14, 2022 5:06 pm

Israel Greenlights Deal on Red Sea Islands Ahead of Biden’s Saudi Visit: Report

avatar by Algemeiner Staff

An aerial view of the coast of the Red Sea near the Straits of Tiran, as pictured through the window of an airplane near Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on November 1, 2016. Photo: Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Israel on Thursday approved the framework of a US-brokered deal concerning two strategic Red Sea islands, local media reported, in a move that could help pave the path for Saudi Arabia to take steps to normalize relations with the Jewish state.

The agreement relates to the islands of Tiran and Sanafir, which are strategically situated along the Straits of Tiran, a waterway that links the Gulf of Aqaba to the Red Sea. Egypt transferred sovereignty over the islands to Saudi Arabia in 2017, though the arrangement has not been finalized, amid outstanding questions surrounding its impact on earlier security protocols agreed to with Israel, which does not maintain diplomatic relations with Riyadh.

The islands played a key role in hostilities between Israel and Egypt in the 20th century. Egypt’s closure of the Suez Canal and Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping preceded the Suez Crisis in 1956, and its decision to close the straits in 1967 led to the Six-Day War, during which Israel captured Tiran and Sanafir.

Israel’s freedom of navigation through the Straits of Tiran was recognized by Egypt after the countries signed a peace treaty in 1979. Tiran and Sanafir were returned to Egyptian control, and a US-led international peacekeeping force was created to ensure compliance with the accord, including its guarantees of unhindered maritime passage.

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Under the new reported deal greenlit by Israel, the international peacekeeping force stationed on the islands will move to the Sinai Peninsula, and surveillance cameras will be stationed to monitor the islands and straits instead, according to two unnamed Israeli officials cited by Walla news.

Saudi Arabia will assume the responsibilities laid out in the 1979 accord between Israel and Egypt, especially in relation to Israel’s freedom of navigation in the straits, while Israel will receive security guarantees from the US in accordance with the Saudi commitments.

The deal was shared with Israel on Wednesday and approved by Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Ganz, the National Security Council, the Foreign Ministry, and the defense establishment, the officials told Walla.

The arrangement will pave the way for a separate accord between the US and Saudi Arabia to give Israeli airlines access to Saudi airspace for trips to the East, particularly India and China, and allow direct flights between Israel and the kingdom for Muslim pilgrims who wish to visit the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina, Walla added.

The news comes as President Joe Biden prepares to conclude his three-day visit to Israel and fly directly from the Jewish state to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia — an unprecedented move that he described as “a small symbol of the budding relations and steps toward normalization between Israel and the Arab world.”

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