Biden’s Jeddah visit will yield steps toward Israeli-Saudi normalization — source

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

US President Joe Biden, during his visit to Jeddah this weekend, will announce the successful brokering of an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Egypt that will see Riyadh take steps toward normalization with Israel, a Middle Eastern diplomat confirms to The Times of Israel.

The normalization measures will include Saudi Arabia opening its airspace to Israeli flights to the Far East in addition to rolling out direct flights between Israel and Saudi Arabia for Muslim pilgrims, the diplomat says, confirming reporting in the Axios news site.

The US has been seeking to finalize the transfer of the Tiran and Sanafir Red Sea islands from Cairo to Riyadh in time for Biden’s visit to Jeddah, where he will participate in the GCC+3 summit and hold a bilateral meeting with Saudi officials.

Israel handed over control of the two islands to Egypt as part of their 1979 peace agreement, but the sides agreed to demilitarize the islands and to allow the presence of a multinational observer force to remain. Israel had been seeking similar assurances from Saudi Arabia in order to sign off on the deal, but Riyadh has been hesitant to put the commitment in writing, the diplomat said last week. The deal is also legally complex because the countries do not maintain official ties and therefore are working through conduits.

While the observer force will be transferred to another location, Saudi Arabia has committed to ensuring Israel’s freedom of transport around the islands, the diplomat says.

At a press conference with Prime Minister Yair Lapid earlier today, Biden said he was “optimistic” about the prospects of being able to announce Saudi overflights when he arrives in Jeddah tomorrow.

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