A picture taken on January 14, 2014 from the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh shows Tiran Island in the background, in the Straits of Tiran between Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Saudi Arabia. (By AFP)
Egypt had informed Israel about its intention to give away two strategic Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, and had received Israeli blessing, Israeli media say.
Egypt announced on Saturday that it ceded Tiran and Sanafir islands at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba to Saudi Arabia, claiming that they fell within the territorial waters of Saudi Arabia.
The daily Haaretz said Israel expressed its approval of the give-and-take during talks with the Egyptian side provided that freedom of navigation for Israeli ships through the area were guaranteed.
Israel also demanded that all other commitments undertaken by Egypt under the Camp David peace accord with Tel Aviv be honored, it added.
Egypt was the Arab first country to recognize Israel with a United States-sponsored 1979 peace accord.
Egypt is reportedly receiving USD 20 billion in aid from Saudi Arabia in return for the islands.
The Haaretz report also said that the agreement allows renegotiation and international arbitration in case Israel objects to Egypt’s decision to transfer the islands’ sovereignty to Saudi Arabia.
Egypt confirmed to Israel and the United States that the accord would be honored, the report added.
According to Haaretz, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu brought up the issue during a security cabinet meeting a fortnight ago, and informed the ministers about the Egyptian decision on the islands.
The US and the multinational peacekeeping force deployed in Tiran and Sanafir did not oppose the deal, the report said.
Meanwhile, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir declared that it “will honor all of Egypt’s legal and international commitments in regard to the two islands” in a move seen by Israeli media as an attempt to appease Israel.
Jubeir, however, said his country would not engage in direct contacts with Israel, the report said.
Tiran Island is located in the entrance of the Straits of Tiran, which separates the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aqaba. Its strategic significance lies in the fact that it is an important sea passage to the major ports of Aqaba in Jordan.
Israel briefly took over the island during the Suez Crisis in late 1956, and once more between 1967 and 1982 following the Six Day War.
Sanafir Island is located to the east of Tiran Island, and measures 33 square kilometers (13 square miles) in area.
The ownership of the two islands had been transferred to Egypt in 1982, when Tel Aviv and Cairo signed the so-called Camp David peace accords.
Egyptians from ordinary citizens and activists to former officials and politicians have lined up
to vent their anger at President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s decision to hand over the islands to Saudi Arabia.