Israel is reportedly considering a Saudi request to change the international status of two disputed islands in the Red Sea, a move that is expected to lay the ground for the normalization of ties between Riyadh and the occupying regime.
The request involves the finalization of the transfer of Tiran and Sanafir, two strategic islands in the Red Sea, from Egyptian to Saudi sovereignty, according to Israel's leading daily Haaretz which cited unnamed officials as reporting the development on Sunday.
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 so-called peace treaty, the two islands must be a demilitarized zone and have the presence of a force of multinational observers led by the United States.
Despite public protests in Egypt, a deal was approved by the Egyptian parliament in June 2017 and the country’s supreme court in March 2018 to transfer sovereignty back to Saudi Arabia. It also required Israeli approval due to the terms of the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.
The Tel Aviv regime gave its tacit approval, pending an Egyptian-Saudi agreement to allow US-led multinational observers to continue their oversight of the islands while ensuring freedom of navigation for vessels en route to Israel’s port city of Eilat. That agreement has been stuck for the past four years as final status issues have remained unresolved.
The Axios news website reported last week that the administration of US President Joe Biden was secretly mediating negotiations among Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel to finalize the deal of transferring the islands.
The sources told Axios that the agreement is not complete and the sensitive negotiations are underway, adding that the White House, however, wants an agreement to be reached before Biden's upcoming trip to the Middle East at the end of June, which could include a stop in Saudi Arabia.
Israel and Saudi Arabia have for years been conducting covert talks on diplomatic, security and business affairs, with senior Israeli officials, mainly related to military issues, visiting the kingdom from time to time.
Israel’s Channel 12 reported on Friday that a senior Israeli official had visited Saudi Arabia very recently amid growing speculation that the two sides were readying small steps toward normalizing relations.
The network, without citing a source, said the official was warmly hosted at a Riyadh palace for talks on various aspects of security and other coordination.
The Yedioth Ahronoth daily also reported meetings between figures from both sides, without providing any further information.
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.