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US secretly brokering deal among Saudis, Israelis and Egyptians: Report

This file photo taken on January 14, 2014, through the window of an airplane, shows the Red Sea’s Tiran (foreground) and the Sanafir (background) islands in the Strait of Tiran between Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Saudi Arabia. (AFP)

The administration of US President Joe Biden is secretly mediating negotiations among Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel as part of efforts aimed at normalizing ties between Riyadh and the occupying Tel Aviv regime, according to a report.

Citing five American and Israeli sources, the Axios news website reported on Tuesday that the US-brokered negotiations involved finalizing the transfer of two strategic islands in the Red Sea from Egyptian to Saudi sovereignty.

Saudi and Egyptian officials say Riyadh, in 1950, gave Egypt control of Tiran and Sanafir, two islands located at the southern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea.

Under a 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, the islands of Tiran and Sanafir must be a demilitarized zone and have the presence of a force of multinational observers led by the United States. Several issues also remained unresolved, including the work of the multinational force.

Despite public protests in Egypt, the Egyptian parliament in June 2017 and the country’s supreme court in March 2018 approved a deal to transfer sovereignty back to Saudi Arabia.

The sources told Axios that the agreement is not complete and the sensitive negotiations are underway, adding that the White House wants an agreement to be reached before Biden’s upcoming trip to the West Asia region at the end of June, which could include a stop in Saudi Arabia.

“The Biden administration believes finalizing an arrangement could build trust between the parties and create an opening to warm relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which do not have official diplomatic relations,” Axios wrote.

The sources said a main issue between the Saudi and Egyptian sides was the multinational force of observers in the two strategic islands.

“Saudi Arabia agreed to keep the islands demilitarized and commit to maintaining full freedom of navigation to all ships but wanted to end the presence of the multinational observers in the islands,” the sources said. “Israeli officials agreed to consider ending the presence of the multinational force but asked for alternative security arrangements that would achieve the same results.”

According to two US and two Israeli sources, Israel also wants Saudi Arabia to take certain steps as part of broader efforts to reach an agreement on several issues, including an airspace clearance for the occupying regime’s airlines.

The sources said Israel demanded that Saudi Arabia allow Israeli airlines to cross more Saudi airspace, which would dramatically shorten flights to India, Thailand, and China. The Israelis also want the Saudis to allow direct flights from Israel to Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage to the holy Muslim cities of Mecca and Medina.

The United States has raised the issue of normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel in recent years. Jared Kushner, the son-in-law and senior advisor of  former US president Donald Trump, said back in March 2021 that normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel was “in sight.”

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan also brought up the idea of Saudi Arabia normalizing ties with Israel during a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in September 2021.

Even though Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have formal diplomatic relations, Riyadh has taken a number of steps over the past years toward normalizing relations with the Tel Aviv regime.

Saudi authorities were said to have given a behind-the-scenes green light to the United Arab Emirates forging ties with Israel in 2020 and have since allowed Israeli aircraft to use the kingdom’s airspace for direct flights to Dubai and Abu Dhabi. 

Riyadh says it would not normalize relations with Tel Aviv outside of the framework of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Four Arab countries – the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco – agreed to normalize relations with Israel under US-brokered agreements in 2020, when Trump was in office.

Palestinians denounce the amity between the Israeli and regional regimes as a stab in their back and a betrayal of their cause.

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