The Egyptian government is apparently delaying the implementation of a controversial treaty that transfers two largely uninhabited islands to Saudi Arabia, and paved the way for the Riyadh regime to take steps toward normalizing relations with Israel.
The deal, to hand over the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir, was agreed during a visit to Egypt by Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in April 2016. It was backed by Egypt's parliament in June 2017.
As part of the agreement, the US-led multinational force of observers that have been present on Tiran for years are required to leave the islands by the end of December.
It sparked rare protests in Egypt, with President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi being accused of “selling” the islands in return for Saudi financial aid.
Senior Israeli officials told American news website Axios that Cairo has been raising reservations, mostly of a technical nature, over the past few weeks.
Among the sticking points is the installation of cameras on the islands that were part of the agreement. The cameras are supposed to monitor activity on Tiran and Sanafir, as well as in the Strait of Tiran.
Israeli officials said the withdrawal of the multinational force from the islands won't be implemented by the end of December due to Egyptian reservations.
The officials told Axios they believe the Egyptian government is holding up the deal due to US-Egypt bilateral issues, including American military assistance.
Last week, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan met with Sisi who was in Washington for the US-Africa summit.
According to US and Israeli sources, Sullivan raised the issue of the Red Sea islands deal during a bilateral meeting, and stressed that the Biden administration wants it implemented.
When Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Barbara Leaf, visited Cairo last October, Egyptian officials told her they expect the administration to transfer the full amount of military assistance if it really sees relations as strategic.
Back on July 14, Axios reported that Israel had approved the provisions of an agreement on the strategic islands of Tiran and Sanafir in the Red Sea, which prepared the ground for the official normalization of ties between Saudi Arabia and the Tel Aviv regime.
The report added that Washington had been “quietly negotiating” the deal between the two sides for months.
Under the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty, Egypt took control of Tiran and Sanafir as the sides agreed to demilitarize the islands and to allow the presence of a multinational observer force to remain.
The looming deal would also give guarantees to the Israeli regime about freedom of navigation based on Saudi commitments.
The deal, as per the report, would pave the way for separate agreements between Saudi Arabia and Israel to allow Israeli airlines to use the Kingdom’s air space for eastbound flights to countries such as India and China.
It can also lead to direct charter flights from the occupied territories to Saudi Arabia for Muslim pilgrims.
The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco became the first Arab countries in decades to normalize relations with Israel in a deal brokered by former US President Donald Trump in 2020.
Riyadh has not officially jumped on the bandwagon yet, but interactions have been already in place between Riyadh and Tel Aviv for years despite the fact that Saudi Arabia had conditioned the normalization on the establishment of an independent, sovereign Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.
The kingdom in November 2020 granted permission for Israeli airlines to use its airspace, hours before the first Israeli flight to the UAE was set to take off.
Palestinians and human rights activists have condemned the normalization agreements between Arab states and the Israeli regime as a “betrayal” to the Palestinian cause and a “stab in the back” of Palestinians.