CAIRO, Egypt (AFP) — As US President Joe Biden visits the Center East this week, one difficulty on the desk would be the standing of two small Pink Sea islands which are uninhabited however of key strategic worth.
Resolving the difficult standing that stems from their location and turbulent historical past would assist construct belief between Israel and Saudi Arabia, two US allies now taking gradual steps that Washington hopes may sooner or later result in diplomatic ties.
For now, the 2 barren desert islands — Tiran and Sanafir — are house solely to some troopers of a decades-old multinational peacekeeping power, their waters sometimes visited by divers for his or her coral reefs.
However the islands have been fought over prior to now, because of their key location on the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba, on which Jordan’s solely seaport of the identical title, and Israel’s Eilat harbor are positioned.
Egypt ceded the islands, positioned east of its resort city Sharm El-Sheikh, to Saudi Arabia in 2016. However the deal nonetheless requires Israel’s inexperienced gentle, at a time when the Jewish state and Saudi Arabia don’t have any formal ties.
A senior Israeli official stated late Thursday Israel would have “no objection” to greenlighting Egypt handing over the islands to Saudi Arabia as a step in direction of any normalization of ties between Riyadh and the Jewish state.
The difficulty is about to be on the agenda Friday when Biden, after his Israel go to, meets Gulf leaders in Jeddah for a convention the place Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi can be anticipated.
Tiran — which hosts a small airport for the peacekeepers — measures about 61 sq. kilometers (24 sq. miles), whereas Sanafir, to the east, is simply about half that dimension.
The islands had been beneath Egyptian sovereignty from 1950, however invaded by Israeli troops in the course of the 1956 Suez Disaster that got here after Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the canal that’s key to commerce between Europe and Asia.
– Deal within the making? –
Nasser’s 1967 closure of the Strait of Tiran, which reduce off maritime entry to Eilat and Aqaba, precipitated the Six Day Battle, after which Israel occupied the Sinai Peninsula and the 2 small islands.
In 1979, the landmark Camp David peace settlement offered for Egypt to get well the territories.
As a part of the Sinai’s demilitarization, Cairo was not allowed to station troops on the islands, the place solely peacekeepers had been primarily based for the so-called Multinational Drive and Observers.
In 2016 a Cairo-Riyadh settlement ceded the islands to Saudi Arabia in a controversial choice that sparked nationalist protests in Egypt, which had been rapidly stifled.
Critics accused Sisi of ceding the islands in return for Saudi assist and funding largesse. The federal government argued the islands had been initially Saudi however leased to Egypt within the Nineteen Fifties.
Egyptian courts handed down a sequence of contradictory rulings earlier than the Supreme Constitutional Court docket dominated in favor of the handover.
However as a result of the difficulty is ruled by the Camp David settlement, the standing of the islands has but to be finalized, requiring Israel to ratify the switch of sovereignty.
It’s this ultimate hurdle that Biden may negotiate with Israeli, Saudi and Egyptian leaders this week, observers say.
The Israeli press has reported that Riyadh has pledged to maintain the islands demilitarized, and to permit Israeli vessels to maintain traversing the strait.
Consultants have pointed to the importance of a possible deal as a step in direction of official normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, who together with the USA are fierce enemies of Iran.
© Agence France-Presse