Israeli minister for military affairs Moshe Yaalon says Saudi Arabia has given Tel Aviv written assurances that the kingdom will guarantee Israel freedom of passage in the Tiran Straits.
The announcement comes as Egypt readies to transfer the sovereignty over two strategic islands in the straits to Saudi Arabia.
Israeli public radio and several newspapers cited Yaalon as saying on Tuesday that an agreement was reached between Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United States under which Riyadh will continue to fulfill Egypt’s commitment to free passage.
“We reached an understanding between the four parties — the Saudis, the Egyptians, Israel and the United States — on the passing of responsibility for the islands, on condition that the Saudis step into the Egyptians’ shoes regarding the military annex to the peace treaty,” Israeli daily Haaretz quoted Yaalon as saying.
On Saturday, Egypt announced that it ceded Tiran and Sanafir islands at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba to the Kingdom, claiming that they fell within the territorial waters of Saudi Arabia.
Cairo is reportedly receiving USD 20 billion in aid from Saudi Arabia in return for the islands.
Tiran Island is located in the entrance of the Straits of Tiran, which separates the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aqaba. Sanafir Island is located to the east of Tiran Island.
The two islands control entry to the Gulf of Aqaba and Jordan.
Israel took over the two Islands in 1967 during the Six Day War. The ownership of the two islands was handed back to Egypt when Tel Aviv and Cairo signed the so-called Camp David peace accords.
A Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) was then deployed in Egypt to support the 1979 treaty between Egypt and Israel.
The 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. © AFP
Citing Yaalon, Israeli public radio said “the agreement on transferring the islands of Tiran and Sanafir from Egyptian control to Saudi control was done with Israel’s assent.”
“It needed our agreement, that of the Americans… and that of the MFO,” Haaretz quoted Yaalon as saying.
According to Haaretz, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised the issue of the give-and-take during a cabinet meeting two weeks ago.
The US and the multinational peacekeeping force deployed in Tiran and Sanafir did not oppose the deal, the report said.
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.
Egypt was the first Arab country to recognize Israel with a United States-sponsored 1979 peace accord.