The Times of Israel reported Thursday that President Biden will announce during his visit to Saudi Arabia this weekend a deal between Riyadh and Cairo that will see the Saudis take steps toward normalization with Israel.
An unnamed Middle Eastern diplomat told the Times that Egypt had agreed to transfer the control of two Red Sea islands, Tiran and Sanafir, to the Saudis. In return, Saudi Arabia is expected to open up its airspace to Israeli planes flying to East Asia and will allow direct flights from Israel for Muslim pilgrims.
Israel ceded control of Tiran and Sanafir to Egypt as part of a 1979 peace treaty between the two nations. Egypt agreed to give control to Saudi Arabia a few years ago, but Israel needed to approve the transfer since it wanted security guarantees for its ships transiting near the islands.
Axios reported that Israel agreed to the island transfer while President Biden was in Jerusalem on Thursday. As part of the deal, the US will give Israel security guarantees for its ships traveling through the Strait of Tiran.
While some progress has been made, it’s widely believed that full normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia is still a long way off. Biden is expected to push for more Israel-Arab military cooperation at a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) he will attend in Jeddah as part of an effort to build a regional alliance against Iran.