I hope the Israelis are just playing dumb
As an apparent act for gratitude for bailing out the Egyptian state during a period of economic and internal instability, Cairo is granting Saudi Arabia authority over two uninhabited islands in the Red Sea. While Tiran and Sanafir are technically Saudi territory, Egypt has administered the islands since 1950.
This is more than a mere thank-you note. Egypt didn’t simply gift the Saudis a random or ceremonial pair of rocks in the Red Sea this past weekend. It gifted Egypt the two most important rocks in the entire Gulf of Aqaba (or, if you prefer, the Gulf of Eilat). Tiran and Sanafir, which boast a total surface area of 44 square miles, serendipitously clog the narrows separating the tip of the Sinai and the Saudi coast. Whoever controls them can choke off both Israel and Jordan’s access to the Indian Ocean. And the islands have played more than a bit part in the Israeli-Arab conflict…
…As the AP reported, Israel has decided not to object to the transfer of the islands’ control, despite briefly considering whether to declare the move a violation of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. The current Egyptian leadership depends on Israeli security cooperation in the Sinai, where ISIS has gained a foothold. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former general who took power after ousting Egypt’s elected Muslim Brotherhood president in 2013, has a shared interest with his Israeli counterparts in reigning in Hamas, which is affiliated with the Brotherhood. Relations between Egypt and Israel, it seems, are stable enough for Cairo to pull off a move like this without the Israelis being overly suspicious of Egypt’s motives.
Or of Saudi Arabia’s motives, either. A country which doesn’t recognize Israel—which is also one of the most militarily powerful states in the Middle East and the world’s top-ranked arms importer—now controls Israel’s outlet to the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean, and just about all of Asia. And Israel doesn’t seem to be the least bit concerned.
There are some less-than-reassuring explanations for why Egypt’s hand-off of the islands is so innocuous from Israel’s perspective: