Will Israeli passport holders soon be able to enjoy Saudi Arabia's latest tourism venture? Sources familiar with the matter have told "Globes" that Saudi Arabia will allow Israelis to vacation on the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir, which it purchased from Egypt in 2016. Saudi Arabia plans building a bridge linking the islands to Egypt.
The long-range vision of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is to develop his country and open it up to the world including huge tourism ventures along the Red Sea coast right up to the Gulf of Eilat. The Saudis also plan to make the islands of Tiran and Sanafir into busy tourist destinations with hotels and casinos.
The demands that delayed signing of the deal
The deal setting the marine border between Egypt and Saudi Arabia was signed in 2016 despite opposition from some in Egypt. Tiran and Sanafir were returned to Egypt by Israel as part of the peace agreement and some saw the islands as sacred Egyptian land. Egypt's President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi even delayed completion of the deal despite the fact that Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court had dismissed petitions against it.
For its part, Israel demanded that the transfer of ownership of the islands not violate its peace agreement with Egypt, which stipulated that a multinational force led by the US would operate on them. Israel also feared that the deal would lead to Saudi control of the exit from the Gulf of Eilat and wanted to ensure that Israeli marine traffic on trade routes would not be harmed.
This issue arose in discussions between the countries involved in the deal, including during US President Joe Biden's visit to the region last summer. Following Benjamin Netanyahu's re-election as prime minister at the end of last year, talks were renewed between the sides about the benefits for Israeli tourists.
At this stage, a solution is emerging that will leave Egypt with a vestige of sovereignty, thus achieving two goals: firstly, Egypt will have a veto on what happens on the islands; secondly, maintaining the peace agreement and giving Israelis the opportunity to vacation on the islands. Israeli passport holders entering Egypt from Taba or Sharm el-Sheikh airport, will be able to spend time in the hotels and casinos operated by Saudi companies on the islands.
But what about eventual peace with Saudi Arabia? Political sources familiar with the matter tell "Globes" that the opening of the Tiran and Sanafir islands to Israeli tourists indicates the Saudi desire to promote steps to move closer to Israel. However, this vision will be realized gradually and through ways that do not have far-reaching political significance. Sources say, "It will be at a slow pace, with more additional steps that will bring the countries closer together, but the real breakthrough is not here yet. Things need to calm down a bit, we'll see where the Netanyahu government is headed, but in the end it's in the interest of all the countries involved to reach a full agreement."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 22, 2023.
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