Leaks show Egypt consulted Israel over transfer of Red Sea islands
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Leaks show Egypt consulted Israel over transfer of Red Sea islands

Israel had to give assent for transfer to Saudi Arabia because the two islands figure prominently in 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement

The Red Sea islands of Tiran, in the foreground, and Sanafir, in the background, sit at the the Strait of Tiran between Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Saudi Arabia (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images, via JTA)
The Red Sea islands of Tiran, in the foreground, and Sanafir, in the background, sit at the the Strait of Tiran between Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Saudi Arabia (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images, via JTA)

Egyptian media have played a taped conversation between the Egyptian foreign minister and an Israeli envoy, apparently confirming the close coordination between Cairo and Jerusalem over the controversial planned Egyptian transfer of the Red Sea islands of Sanafir and Tiran to Saudi Arabia.

Israel has previously said it gave written approval for the move because the two Red Sea islands figure prominently in the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement signed in 1979.

But the move is deeply unpopular in Egypt, where it is seen as selling off parts of Egypt in exchange for Saudi cash. Egypt’s High Administrative Court last month upheld a ruling voiding the government agreement to hand over the two islands.

The taped conversation was played on Egyptian opposition TV channel Mekameleen on Friday, according to the Middle East Eye.

The recording only has the side of Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in his conversation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal envoy, Yitzhak Molcho. However, Molcho is referred to by name several times in the recording.

Yitzhak Molcho (photo credit: Michal Fattal/Flash90)
Yitzhak Molcho (photo credit: Michal Fattal/Flash90)

“I will agree to what you proposed: ‘The ARE (Arab Republic of Egypt) will not agree to any amendment to the agreement without the prior, formal consent of the GOI (Government of Israel),’ OK?,” Shoukry said.

The recordings indicate how eager Egypt was to accommodate Israel in order to see the deal go through.

“You had asked on the fourth line to include the word ‘enduring,’ I am going to go ahead and accept that, OK?” Shoukry told Molcho at one point.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara host Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in their official residence in Jerusalem, July 10, 2016, during a visit to Israel for the first time in nearly a decade. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara host Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in their official residence in Jerusalem, July 10, 2016, during a visit to Israel for the first time in nearly a decade. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

“Let me try again to accommodate you, you can I hope recognize how much I am trying,” the Egyptian foreign minister said later.

Cairo said it had agreed to demarcate its maritime borders with Saudi Arabia, officially placing the two islands in the Straits of Tiran in Saudi territory.

The raft of agreements also includes some $16 billion in Saudi investments in the ailing Egyptian economy.

The leak of the recording indicates the depth of opposition to the deal in Egypt, the report said.

The two Red Sea islands figure prominently in the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement signed in 1979, which promises safe passage to Israeli civilian and military ships through the narrow waterways of the Straits of Tiran. The Egyptian blockade of the waterway to Israeli shipping in 1967 was a key casus belli for Israel that led to the onset of the Six Day War.

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Under the Egyptian-Saudi agreement, the islands are to be transferred to Saudi control in 25 years, giving Riyadh a direct hand in ensuring the fulfillment of the peace treaty with Israel.

Saudi officials said they were committed to “all Egyptian commitments” related to the islands.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said in an interview last April that his country would honor the Israel-Egypt peace treaty’s terms as regards the islands. Saudi Arabia won’t negotiate with Israel about the islands, he said, since “the commitments that Egypt approved [in the peace treaty] we are also committed to, including the stationing of an international force on the islands. We looked into the matter and we know our legal position. We are committed to what Egypt committed to before the international community.”

The Straits of Tiran are Israel’s only water passage from Eilat to the open sea, allowing for shipping to and from Africa and Asia without requiring passage through the Suez Canal, as well as passage to and from the Suez Canal. Israel Navy ships use the waterway to reach open seas, where they carry out naval exercises that are not possible in the narrow confines of the Gulf of Aqaba.

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