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Israel agrees to deal with Red Sea islands, paving way for Saudi normalization moves

Israel agrees to deal with Red Sea islands, paving way for Saudi normalization moves
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The Israeli government on Thursday approved the parameters of a deal around two strategic islands in the Red Sea that would pave the way for Saudi Arabia to take steps towards Normalization of relations with Israel.

Why it matters: The deal the US made quietly months of negotiations, would be a significant foreign policy achievement for the Biden administration in the Middle East.

  • The deal will also enable a separate arrangement with Saudi Arabia, allowing Israeli airlines to use its airspace for eastbound flights to India and China, as well as direct charter flights from Israel to Saudi Arabia for Muslim pilgrims visiting the holy cities want from Mecca and Medina, like Axios before reported.
  • Israeli officials said those moves are expected to be announced during President Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia over the weekend.

Driving the news: Israeli officials said Israel on Thursday gave the US the green light for the deal with the Red Sea islands. The parameters of the deal on the islands of Tiran and Sanafir have been approved by the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry, Israeli officials said.

  • According to the officials, the deal includes moving multilateral observer forces currently based in Tiran and Sanafir to new positions in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, and installing cameras to monitor activities on the islands and in the Tiran Strait.
  • As part of the deal, Saudi Arabia will pledge to the US to honor commitments made in the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace Accord, mainly maintaining freedom of navigation in the Strait of Tiran for Israeli ships, as Axios previously did reported.
  • The US will give Israel security guarantees on freedom of navigation based on Saudi commitments.

What you say: President Biden said Thursday during a news conference with acting Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid in Jerusalem that he was “optimistic” about possible steps to normalize Saudi Arabia’s ties with Israel.

  • The Israeli prime minister’s office declined to comment.

Diagram: Axios Visuals

Catch up fast: Despite public protests in Egypt, the Egyptian Parliament in June 2017 and the Supreme Court of the country approved a deal in March 2018 to transfer sovereignty of the islands back to Saudi Arabia.

  • But the deal required Israel’s approval because of the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, which stipulated that Tiran and Sanafir had to be a demilitarized zone and have the presence of a force of US-led multinational observers
  • Israel gave his general agreement transfer it the islands back to Saudi Arabia, awaiting an agreement between Cairo and Riyadh on the work of the multinational forces and freedom of navigation in the strait.
  • But the deal never went through, largely because Saudi Arabia wanted international observers to leave the islands. This created the need for a new agreement between Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
  • The Biden administration has been quietly mediating between Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt for months. However, since Saudi Arabia and Israel do not have diplomatic relations and cannot sign official bilateral agreements directly, the countries involved had to use creative legal and diplomatic solutions to try to conclude an agreement indirectly.

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