Building off the last few years of rumors and reports regarding clandestine relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, mainly motivated by their shared concerns over Iran’s nuclear program and destabilizing regional activities, two recent developments highlight a potential route for Israel to firm up support within the Arab world.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi ratified a treaty to hand over two strategic islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman promoted his 31-year-old son, Mohammed bin Salman, to crown prince, making him next in line to be king.
The deal to hand over the islands of Tiran and Sanafir was reached in 2016 after a visit to Egypt by King Salman. The uninhabited islands that sit on the southern entry to the Gulf of Aqaba were originally given to Egypt in 1950 by Saudi Arabia, in order to protect them from Israel. Later, the islands played an important role in setting off the 1967 Six-Day War when Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli ships, preventing Israeli access to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.
United Nations peacekeepers maintain a presence on Tiran Island as part of the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty. Under the treaty’s terms, Israel gave its approval for the Egyptian-Saudi agreement as long as the Saudis maintained the treaty’s clauses pertaining to Israeli shipping through the Straits of Tiran.
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