In Brief: Hope for normalisation as part of US-brokered Egypt-Saudi deal

Straits of Tiran > US Central Intelligence Agency, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Biden administration is reportedly brokering a deal to transfer two Red Sea islands from Egypt to Saudi Arabia that could include steps to normalise Saudi-Israeli ties.

The treaty would return control of Tiran and Sanafir, which have been leased by Egypt since the 1950s, to Saudi Arabia.

The demilitarised islands at the mouth of the narrow Straits of Tiran – by which Israel enjoys access to the Red Sea – figured prominently in the 1979 peace treaty between Cairo and Jerusalem.

The transfer of the islands to Saudi Arabia thus requires Israeli support, which Jerusalem has reportedly granted subject to continued demilitarisation and freedom of navigation.

Israeli negotiators have reportedly pushed the Saudis to take steps to normalise diplomatic ties, including allowing more Israeli commercial flights to enter Saudi airspace and allowing direct flights between Israel and Saudi Arabia to facilitate Israeli Muslims to visit Mecca and Medina.

The US reportedly believes the agreement could build the trust between Israel and the Saudis needed to take further steps towards diplomatic normalisation along the lines of the 2020 Abraham Accords, which normalised relations between Israel and four Arab countries.