Photo Credit: IDF Spokesperson / Flash 90
An Israeli Navy boat escorts the Panama-flagged cargo vessel Klos C into the Israeli port of Eilat after seizing it in the Red Sea.

Saudi Arabia has sent a letter to Jerusalem pledging in writing to honor the terms of Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel as part of its agreement to control two islands in the Gulf of Aqaba.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon announced Tuesday that he also has approved the signing of the transfer of control of the islands to the Saudis from Egypt.

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Israel also had agreed to the arrangement between the two Arab nations, in which Egypt agreed to transfer control of the two islands, Sanafir and Tiran, to Saudi Arabia. Tiran historically was an island belonging to Saudi Arabia that was “leased” to Egypt in 1950.

The deal places both islands officially in the Straits of Tiran, which is in Saudi territory.

As for the Saudis, “The commitments that Egypt approved [in the peace treaty] we are also committed to, including the stationing of an international force on the islands. We looked into the matter and we know our legal position. We are committed to what Egypt committed to before the international community,” Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said in an interview.

The two islands are located at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba as it opens to the Red Sea, about 200 kilometers (124 miles) south of Eilat.

Israel’s Eilat seaport is located at the top of the Gulf and operates as the sole point of entry for goods from the Red Sea to the country.

Because the two islands are mentioned in the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, Cairo is required to update Jerusalem on the matter.

The agreement effectively redraws the maritime boundaries of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, thereby creating new conditions for the relations of both countries with Israel.

In this case, Saudi Arabia has pledged – in writing – to honor the terms of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, albeit while stressing Riyadh will have no direct contact with Jerusalem.

Saudi Arabia is still formally at war with Israel but as with numerous other Arab nations in the region, there are formalities and then there are practicalities. And there is Iran, an overwhelming threat to everyone in the neighborhood.

Egypt and Israel have reportedly been in contact over the plan to redraw the maritime boundaries of the two countries, according to a Hebrew-language Ynet report Monday that quoted the Egyptian daily Al Ahram.

The plan also calls construction of a bridge over the Red Sea between Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The Saudis signed a string of agreements in Cairo over the weekend that will result in some $16 billion in cash flowing into the battered Egyptian economy. The Egyptian parliament must still vote on the agreement, however, and some in the country are accusing President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of “selling” the islands to the Saudis.

From the Israeli legal standpoint, since the Saudis are also committed to the terms of the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, Israeli sources noted there may be no need to change the text, which would require a Knesset vote, Ynet reported.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.

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