Israel informed in advance of Egypt-Saudi island pact

Egypt informed Israel in advance of its intention to transfer the sovereignty over two islands in the Gulf of Aqaba to Saudi Arabia, Haaretz reported Monday night. 

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had ceded the Sanafir and Tiran islands, off the coast of Eilat, to Saudi Arabia. The two islands provide Israel's only access to the port of Aqaba. Egyptian blockage of the passage in 1967 provided one of Israel's casus belli in launching the Six-Day War.

According to Haaretz, during the talks with Egypt, Israel made clear that it doesn't oppose the move as long as Israeli ships are guaranteed freedom of navigation in the area, and as long the rest of the commitments Egypt made as part of the peace agreement with Israel are honored.

Egypt confirmed to Israel and the United States that the treaty will indeed be honored, and the Saudi government later made a public announcement to that effect. 

Israel's 1979 peace treaty with Egypt guarantees Israel full maritime passage rights in the Red Sea and through the Straits of Tiran, a deal enforced by the presence of a multinational force deployed in the Sinai Peninsula.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu raised the issue during a security cabinet meeting two weeks ago, and briefed the ministers on the planned move. The U.S. and the multinational peacekeeping force, whose troops are stationed on the islands in question, were also kept in the loop and did not oppose to the transfer.

The initial assessment by the Israeli Foreign Ministry and defense establishment is that the transfer of the islands from Egypt to Saudi Arabia won't adversely affect the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, according to Haaretz, but nevertheless, Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon are awaiting a more comprehensive assessment that is currently being devised by lawyers from several government ministries. 

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told Egyptian editors in comments published Monday that Cairo would not cooperate with Israel following the transfer, and that there will be no coordination between the sides. However, he made clear that Saudi Arabia "will honor all of Egypt's legal and international commitments in regard to the two islands." 

Saudi Arabia has also promised not to use the islands for military purposes, the Egyptian daily Al Ahram reported.

In recent years, Israel has eased its adherence to the treaty's limits on forces permitted in the Sinai, allowing Egypt to send in troops as it fights the ongoing terrorist insurgency in the Peninsula.

In 2013, for instance, Egypt sent in more troops, with Israel's agreement, to cope with unrest after Mohammed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, was toppled as Egypt's president.

And last December, it was reported that Egyptian Air Force planes had crossed into Israeli airspaces as part of Egypt's military campaign against the Sinai affiliate of the Islamic State (ISIS).

The treaty provides for renegotiation and international arbitration if necessary in the event that Israel were to object to Egypt's handover of the islands to the Saudis, according to Haaretz.

Source: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/210726

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