Report: U.S. Brokering Landmark Deal Between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel

The Biden administration is mediating talks aimed at normalizing ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel in exchange for the transfer of two Red Sea islands from Egypt to Gulf kingdom, a report by the Axios news site said.
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The Biden administration is mediating talks aimed at normalizing ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel in exchange for the transfer of two Red Sea islands from Egypt to Gulf kingdom, a report by the Axios news site said.

If successful, the move would mark a huge foreign policy coup for the U.S., and certainly the biggest since the Trump administration brokered the Abraham Accords normalizing ties between Israel and the Arab Muslim nations of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in 2017 ratified a treaty to hand over the contested Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia in a deal that was never finalized.

Egypt, which became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, currently controls the Straits of Tiran which is of vital strategic importance to Israel. The narrow straits provide Israel’s only passage for Israeli civilian and naval ships leaving the southern port city of Eilat for the wider sea.

Safe passage is secured there by the presence of a demilitarized multinational force stationed on the islands and led by the U.S. – as per the 1979 peace treaty.

Saudi Arabia petitioned for the return of the islands in 1988 and in 2016, declared Saudi ownership over them. However, the move triggered a wave of protests in Egypt and the transfer of the islands was scuttled.

Israel has said it would accept the transfer in principal, on the condition that the multinational force would still protect shipping routes, Axios reported, citing American and Israeli sources.

According to the report, the request remains a sticking point because Riyadh is refusing to keep a foreign force on the islands. It has instead committed to maintaining full freedom of navigation for ships through the Straits of Tiran. Israeli officials expressed consent on the condition that alternative security arrangements would be put in place, according to Axios.

Jerusalem has demanded further concessions from Riyadh, including allowing Israeli flights to use Saudi airspace and permitting direct flights between Israel and Saudi Arabia to allow Israeli Muslim pilgrims to travel to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina from Tel Aviv.

Washington is hoping to broker an agreement before President Joe Biden’s expected trip to the Middle East late next month. As part of that trip, he is slated to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Jerusalem and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh.

According to Axios, which cited Arab sources, a summit between the leaders of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq is also in the offing during his tour of the region.

 

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