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AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA): The United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt are reportedly close to clinching a deal over two strategic islands in the Red Sea, Tiran and Sanafir. That’s according to Barak Ravid, a political affairs commentator for “Israel’s” Walla! website.
Ravid quotes three senior “Israeli” officials who claim that the parties are inching towards finalizing a set of agreements, understandings, and guarantees ahead of an upcoming visit to the region by US President Joe Biden.
Ravid argues that the deal “will constitute an important achievement for the Biden administration in the Middle East.” He also thinks that it may pave the way for a gradual process of normalization between Saudi Arabia and “Israel.”
Ravid points out the obvious: “Israel” and the Saudis don’t have official diplomatic relations, and therefore, cannot directly sign a formal agreement regarding the two islands.
As such, the participating sides are trying to come up with creative legal and diplomatic solutions to close the agreement through indirect contacts. Ravid adds that in recent months, the Biden administration mediated quiet negotiations between Saudi Arabia, “Israel” and Egypt over a deal that would complete the transfer of the two islands from Egypt to Saudi Arabia.
According to Ravid, the question was raised at the heart of the negotiations about how to respond to Saudi Arabia’s request to remove international observers from the two islands while at the same time maintaining the security arrangements and political guarantees requested by “Israel.”
For their part, the “Israelis” wants to ensure that Egyptian guarantees in the context of the so-called “peace” agreement bind the Saudis as well, especially with regard to an agreement allowing “Israeli” ships to freely sail through the Strait of Tiran to and from the port of Eilat.
Two senior “Israeli” officials told Walla! that Saudi Arabia agreed to take upon itself all Egyptian guarantees, including the obligation to preserve freedom of navigation.
“Israeli” officials said that the outgoing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, the new Prime Minister Yair Lapid, and War Minister Benny Gantz were briefed in recent days about the details of the plan to complete the agreement and agreed on its principles.
According to the plan, Saudi Arabia will sign an agreement with Egypt regarding the two islands, and in return, it will send a memorandum to the United States detailing its commitment to freedom of navigation and security arrangements.
The Biden administration will then transfer to “Israel” a memorandum detailing the Saudi commitment to freedom of navigation and will provide American guarantees to monitor the level of compliance.
An “Israeli” official said that Gantz and relevant parties within the security establishment believe that the plan preserves “Israel’s” security interests in the Red Sea and support the move.
“Parallel to finalizing the agreement on the two islands, it is expected that Saudi Arabia will announce that it will allow planes belonging to “Israeli” shipping companies to use Saudi airspace on their way to the east, especially to India and China,” the source adds.
But Ravid clarifies that while the negotiating parties are close to inking a deal, the plan has not been finalized and the agreement and guarantees are still being worked out.