The Biden administration is mediating talks aimed at normalizing relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel in exchange for the relocation of two Red Sea islands from Egypt to the Gulf Kingdom. report Said by the Axios news site.
If successful, it would be a foreign policy coup for the United States and the largest since the Trump administration brokered the Abrahamic Accords that normalized relations between Israel and the Arab Islamic states of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco.
In 2017, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi ratified a treaty ceding the disputed islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia.
Egypt, the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, now controls the Strait of Tiran, which is strategically important to Israel. The narrow strait provides Israel’s only passageway for Israeli civilians and naval ships from the southern port city of Eilat to the wider seas.
Safe passage is ensured by the presence of a US-led, demilitarized multinational force stationed on the island under the 1979 peace treaty.
Saudi Arabia petitioned for the return of the island in 1988 and declared Saudi ownership in 2016. However, the move caused a wave of protests in Egypt and the relocation of the island was thwarted.
Citing US and Israeli sources, Axios said Israel said it would accept the transfer in principle on condition that multinational forces continue to protect its shipping routes.
The request remains a stumbling block as Riyadh is refusing to station foreign troops on the island, reports say. Instead, he worked to maintain full sailing freedom for ships passing through the Straits of Tiran. According to Axios, Israeli officials have expressed their agreement on condition that they take alternative security measures.
Jerusalem has called for further concessions from Riyadh, including allowing Israeli aircraft to use Saudi airspace and allowing direct flights between Israel and Saudi Arabia to allow Israeli Muslim pilgrims to travel from Tel Aviv to the holy sites of Mecca and Medina.
Washington hopes to broker a deal ahead of President Joe Biden’s trip to the Middle East later next month. As part of that trip, he will meet Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Jerusalem and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh.
According to Axios, citing Arab sources, summits between the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq are just around the corner during his trip to the region.