In another display of shifting alliances in the Middle East and after receiving assurances from Saudi Arabia for free passage to Israel’s southernmost port, Israel is lending support to a deal that sees Egypt handing over control of two strategic Red Sea islands to the kingdom.
By: AP and World Israel News Staff
Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Saudi Arabia has given Israel written assurances that the kingdom will guarantee Israeli freedom of passage through the Tiran Straits, the main maritime route to Israel’s southern port of Eilat.
Tuesday’s announcement comes as Egypt readies to hand over control of two islands in the Straits to Saudi Arabia.
Ya’alon said an agreement was reached by which Saudi Arabia will continue to fulfill Egypt’s commitment to free passage for Israeli vessels, as delineated in the peace accords signed between Israel and Egypt in 1979.
Speaking to military reporters, he said the deal has Israel’s consent, as well.
Israel and Saudi Arabia have no official relations, but ties have warmed recently mainly over shared concerns over Iran’s growing influence in the region, and there have been reports of under-the-table collaboration between the two countries, especially on military and intelligence issues.
The two islands control entry to ports in Israel and Jordan. Access to the waterway was a crucial factor in past wars. Israel captured them in the 1967 Six Day War, but returned them to Egypt after the two nations signed the peace treaty.
Earlier this week, Egypt declared its intention to hand over control of the two strategic Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.
The announcement said a team of Egyptian experts has concluded that the islands of Tiran and Sanafir at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba were inside Saudi territorial waters and would therefore be turned over to the kingdom.
The agreement must be ratified by parliament, a 596-seat chamber.
Under the terms of the treaty, Saudi Arabia cannot station military forces on the islands and is committed to ensuring free navigation in the area’s narrow shipping lanes.
The deal on Tiran and Sanafir paves the way for the construction of a bridge linking Saudi Arabia to Sharm el-Sheikh, at the tip of the Sinai Peninsula, and the kingdom is expected to lend massive support to Egypt’s failing economy.