Israel will agree to a new security agreement that will allow Egypt to transfer strategic control of the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia, according to reports, and President Joe Biden is expected to announce the outcome of the negotiations in late June.
In return, Saudi Arabia will allow Israeli airlines to fly over its airspace. So far, only Israeli flights to and from the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, as well as Air India flights to and from Israel, are allowed to fly over Saudi territory.
According to the Jerusalem Post, President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit Israel and Saudi Arabia in the coming weeks, where he could meet with Saudi Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and then make the agreement official.
A breakthrough despite Saudi Arabia’s reluctance
Strategically located on the sea passage to the ports of Aqaba in Jordan and Eilat in Israel, Tiran and Sanafir were occupied by the Israelis in 1967 during the Six-Day War, before being returned to Egyptian control in 1982, following the signing of the Camp David peace accords.
For its part, Saudi Arabia argues that Egypt has controlled the islands since 1950 to protect them at Riyadh’s request, and has long claimed ownership. However, Egypt’s Supreme Court approved a move in 2017 to return control to Saudi authorities.
The agreement is part of U.S. efforts to normalize relations between Israel and multiple Arab states, the results of which have ended in peace deals with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan, known as the Abraham Accords.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that Riyadh’s role is “fundamental” in the normalization of relations between Israel and Arab and Muslim countries.
“Saudi Arabia is a critical partner to us in dealing with extremism in the region, in dealing with the challenges posed by Iran, and also I hope in continuing the process of building relationships between Israel and its neighbors both near and further away through the continuation, the expansion, of the Abraham Accords,” Blinken said.
Despite the efforts and progress, Saudi officials recently clarified that diplomatic relations with Israel will not be normalized in the near future.
On the other hand, Israel’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yair Lapid, told the Jerusalem Post that normalization with Saudi Arabia will come in “baby steps.”