Yesterday, Egypt and Saudi Arabia made a stunning announcement:after 66 years, Egypt will finally return the Tiran and Sanafir Islands to Saudi Arabia. These strategic islands rest at the mouth of the straits of Tiran, the gateway to the Red Sea and the Gulf of Eilat.
So how exactly did Egypt come to be in possession of these important islands? Al Arabiya reports:
Following the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and its attack on Umm Rashrash in Jordan (Eilat today) in March 1949, Arab worries regarding Israel’s presence on the Gulf of Aqaba led to an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Egypt whereby Egyptian forces occupied the islands of Tiran and Sanafir, located at the entrance of the Gulf of Aqaba. Egypt officially informed the United Kingdom and United States respectively on 30 January and 28 February 1950 of its occupation of Tiran and Sanafir and explained the nature of the occupation in an aide-memoir which stated that “the Government of Egypt acting in full accord with the Government of Saudi Arabia has given orders to occupy effectively these two islands… In doing this Egypt wanted simply to confirm its right (as well as every possible right of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) in regard to the mentioned islands…”.
You read that correctly. Saudi Arabia invited another Arab country to occupy its territory only to make sure Israel would not do the same thing! The Kingdom continued to allow Egypt to occupy the islands for the next 17 years (except for a brief period in 1956 during the Suez Crisis) until Israel took them in the Six Day War. Then, following the Camp David Accords, Israel returned the islands, not to Saudi Arabia, which continued to refuse to negotiate, make peace with or recognize Israel, but to Egypt. Egypt has maintained control of the uninhabited islands since 1982. That means that these Saudi Islands were under Egyptian occupation for 51 years altogether!
Ironically, had Saudi Arabia never “leased” the islands to Egypt, Israel never would have taken them in 1967 (or 56) and they would have been left alone completely. Rather than choosing peace, not only did Saudi Arabia choose war in 1947 when it rejected partition and sent elements of its army to destroy the Yishuv, but it actually chose to allow its own territory to be occupied rather than let it fall into the hands of the Jews.
This Egyptian occupation, just like the one in Gaza and the Jordanian one in Judea and Samaria, was never condemned or protested and it isn’t being ended by a BDS campaign. It is ending because Egypt and Saudi Arabia have realized that Israel has no expansionist desires other than to expand is peace in the region. It doesn’t matter that Tiran may well have been the site of the ancient Jewish Kingdom of Iotabe; when the chance for peace with Egypt came, Israel grabbed hold of it and agreed to withdraw.
The lesson of the Tiran and Sanafir Islands is very clear: “occupation” is not the problem, occupation by Jews, on the other hand, is an unforgivable sin that must be confronted by the entire world.
In case you were wondering, Saudi Arabia has agreed to follow all the articles of the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty, will not use the islands for military purposes, interfere with Israeli shipping and will continue to allow the current American military personnel to remain on the islands. But lest anyone think this indicates the Kingdom is ready for peace with Israel, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, cleared this up by saying: “We will not sign treaties with Israel or conclude agreements with them without a final solution to the Palestinian issue includes withdrawal to the 1967 borders, including East Jerusalem and the establishment of a Palestinian state and a just solution to the refugee issue.”
Ah, the more things change, the more they stay the same.