Israel received Saudi pledge over strategic Red Sea strait: media

 13 Apr 2016 - 0:00

Israel received Saudi pledge over strategic Red Sea strait: media
Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon in Tel Aviv, July 28, 2014. Reuters / Nir Elias


Jerusalem: Israel received pledges that Egypt's move to give Saudi Arabia strategic Red Sea islands would not affect the freedom of passage of its ships, media quoted Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon as saying Tuesday.

Cairo announced Saturday it had settled a long-standing maritime dispute with Riyadh by ceding to its Red Sea neighbour the two small islands in the Straits of Tiran.

An Egyptian blockade of the narrow channel, which controls Israel's access to its sole Red Sea port, Eilat, was one of the causes of the 1967 Six-Day War.

Egypt made peace with the Jewish state in 1979, signing a treaty which guaranteed Israeli shipping unimpeded movement through the straits, vital for access to the Indian Ocean and trade with Asia.

A multinational observer force (MFO), deployed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, monitors compliance.

Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, becoming the second -- and so far the last -- Arab state to do so.

Saudi Arabia has no official relations with Israel, but Israeli public radio and several newspapers cited Yaalon as saying, in a briefing restricted to Israeli defence reporters, that Israel had received pledges on the preservation of the status quo from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as from the United States, a signatory to the Israel-Egypt peace accord.

"Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said the agreement on transferring the islands of Tiran and Sanafir from Egyptian control to Saudi control was done with Israel's assent," the radio posted on its website.

"It needed our agreement, that of the Americans... and that of the MFO," Haaretz daily quoted Yaalon as saying.

"We reached an understanding between the four parties -- the Saudis, the Egyptians, Israel and the United States -- on the passing of responsibility for the islands, on condition that the Saudis step into the Egyptians' shoes regarding the military annexe to the peace treaty."

Contacted by AFP, the defence ministry would neither confirm nor deny the substance of Yaalon's reported comments.

Eyal Zisser, a professor in Middle East history at Tel Aviv University, welcomed the Red Sea agreement as a step forward in regional relations.

"By engaging Israel, Saudi Arabia essentially vowed to comply with the terms of the Egyptian peace treaty with Israel," he wrote in Israel Hayom newspaper, considered close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.