Israel: Saudi Arabia Gave Written Assurances Over Freedom of Passage in Tiran Straits

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon says the document ensures the commitment of Saudi Arabia, which doesn’t have formal ties with Israel, to adhere to terms of Israel-Egypt peace treaty.

The Island of Tiran, one of two that Egypt has pledged to hand back to the Saudis, as viewed from Sharm el-Sheikh.
The Island of Tiran, one of two that Egypt has pledged to hand back to the Saudis, as viewed from Sharm el-Sheikh. Arnaud Chicurel/AFP

Israel's freedom of passage in the Straits of Tiran following their handover to Saudi Arabia was guaranteed in the deal, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said in a Tuesday briefing with military reporters.

The countries involved in the issue agreed to continue the freedom of passage in the area, and this is reflected in a document handed to Israel. The document ensures the commitment of Saudi Arabia, which doesn’t have formal agreements with Israel, to carry on with the principles reached by Israel and Egypt in their 1979 peace agreement. According to the accord, the Straits of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba are international waterways open to free sailing and flying.

Map of the islands of Sanafir and Tiran in the Red Sea.

The two islands, Tiran and Sanafir, control entry to the Gulf of Aqaba and the ports of Eilat and Aqaba in Israel and Jordan, respectively. Tiran is the closest of the two to Egypt's coast, lying about six kilometers from the Red Sea Resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Israel's 1979 treaty with Egypt guarantees Israel full maritime passage rights in the Red Sea and through the Straits of Tiran, a deal enforced by the presence of a multinational force deployed in the Sinai Peninsula.

Ya'alon noted since the freedom of passage is ensured in the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, an early request was made to Israel regarding the transfer of the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia.

"An appeal was made to us – and it needed our agreement, [and the agreement of] the Americans who were involved in the peace agreement and of the MFO," Ya'alon said, referring to the Multinational Force and Observers peacekeeping forces at the border. "We reached an agreement between the four parties – the Saudis, the Egyptians, Israel and the United States – to transfer the responsibility for the islands, on condition that the Saudis fill in the Egyptians' shoes in the military appendix of the peace agreement."

Ya'alon added that the defense establishment does not object to the construction of an overland bridge at the site, and that the move was carried out with Israel's consent. He even stated that the Saudis' understandings and obligations are ensured in the document.