By: A7 Staff
The Biden administration has been quietly mediating among Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt on negotiations that, if successful, could be a first step on the road to the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, Axios’ Barak Ravid reported Monday, citing five US and Israeli sources.
The talks involve finalizing the transfer of two strategic islands in the Red Sea from Egyptian to Saudi sovereignty, the sources said.
If an arrangement is reached, it would be a significant foreign policy achievement for the Biden administration in the Middle East.
The US and Israeli sources told Ravid the agreement is not complete and the sensitive negotiations are ongoing. The White House wants an agreement to be reached before President Joe Biden’s upcoming trip to the Middle East at the end of June, which could include a stop in Saudi Arabia, according to the sources.
The islands in question are Tiran and Sanafir, which control the Straits of Tiran, a strategic sea passage to the ports of Aqaba in Jordan and Eilat in Israel. Saudi and Egyptian officials say Saudi Arabia gave Egypt control of the islands in 1950. They were later demilitarized as part of the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.
The White House and the Prime Minister’s office declined to comment. The embassies of Saudi Arabia and Egypt did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to the sources, 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.
It would be the most significant US foreign policy achievement in the Middle East since the Abraham Accords, which were brokered by the Trump administration and led to normalization agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco.
White House Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk is the Biden administration’s point person in the current mediation efforts, according to the US and Israeli sources.
A main issue is the multinational force of observers, the sources said.
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 the sources.
Israel also wants Saudi Arabia to take certain steps as part of broader efforts to reach agreement on several issues, two US and two Israeli sources said.
Israel asked that Saudi Arabia allow Israeli airlines to cross more Saudi airspace, which would dramatically shorten flights to India, Thailand and China, the sources added.
Israel has been for years rumored to have behind-the-scenes ties with Saudi Arabia, but the Saudis have vehemently denied those rumors.
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Saudi Crown Prince reportedly held a secret meeting last November in which they discussed the possibility of normalizing relations between their two countries.
Subsequent reports said the Crown Prince pulled back from a normalization deal with Israel largely because of the US election result. Riyadh denied the meeting had even taken place.
Saudi Arabian officials have repeatedly said that a Palestinian state with eastern Jerusalem as its capital is a prerequisite for Saudi Arabia normalizing ties with Israel.