Huge significance of 2 small Red Sea islands

Last week the Egyptian government announced that it was handing over sovereignty of two small, uninhabited islands in the Red Sea, Tiran and Snafir, to Saudi Arabia, and is planning, together with the Saudis, to build a bridge between the two countries.
In exchange, according to reports, the kingdom and Saudi firms are expected, among other things, to:
Invest over $20 billion in Egypt
Provide about $1.5 billion for developing northern Sinai
Fund the causeway connecting Sharm-el-Sheikh and Saudi Arabia
Supply Egypt’s energy needs with a long-term loan at 2 percent interest
Since the 1800s, these islands have changed ownership several times, leaving the current status in a bit of a gray area.
In 1950, the Saudi government handed over both islands to Egypt because at the time Egypt had the military capability to “protect” them from Israel.
Both islands, at the mouth of the Gulf of Elat Aqaba have a combined area of only 44 square miles and are 5 miles from Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Both islands are arid and uncultivated with yet unexplored possible natural resources.
The big significance Tiran has is its strategic position — it forms the narrowest section of the Straits of Tiran, which is the only passage from the ports of Eilat in Israel, and Aqaba in Jordan, to the Indian Ocean and South Asian markets.
This strategic significance played a disastrous role for Egypt when, on May 22, 1967, President Gamal Abdel Nasser ordered the blockade of the Straits of Tiran.
Perceiving this as an act of war, Israel launched attacks on Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, starting the Six-Day War. This led to the loss of Arab land to Israel and the death of some 20,000 Arab soldiers.
Egypt regained the Sinai Peninsula, including the two islands, after the 1973 Yom Kippur war.
Tiran is included as part of the 1979 Camp David peace treaty, signed in Washington by Egypt and Israel, that guarantees freedom of Israeli shipping through the Straits of Tiran.
Both islands are uninhabited and only Tiran has a handful of international peacekeeping troops, mostly American and Egyptian soldiers. Many beaches on Tiran are mined.
The Saudi government now has to agree to abide by the same Camp David Accords with regard to guaranteeing safe passage for Israeli shipping through the Straits of Tiran.
Egypt, it seems, made an excellent deal: It receives an outstanding economic lifeline in exchange for territories that it probably does not technically own.
Israel was told in advance about the Saudi-Egyptian deal, and gave its approval, sort of. Israel’s concerns are mainly the fact that the current instability in the Saudi kingdom could lead to an overthrow of the somewhat fragile regime and the establishment of a hostile (to both Israel and the U.S.) government of either radical Islamist extremists like ISIS, or a pro-Iran group. Either way would create the risk of the Straits of Tiran being again blocked to Israeli commercial and military shipping.
Another concern is the planned bridge or causeway. Obviously it would be highly beneficial to the Egyptians and Saudis, but what threats will it pose down the road, to Israeli, Jordanian and American ships sailing beneath it?
All told, if the various agreements stand the test of time, at least at the moment it looks like a good deal. If nothing else, it brings together the interests, and reinforces relations, between the four moderate, anti-Iran and anti-Islamic terrorism powers in the Middle East: Egypt, Saudi Arabia (assuming the new 9/11 disclosures don’t shake the boat too much…), Jordan and Israel.
That makes the islands significant.
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is president and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst. Email:

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