Israel gives blessing for Egypt-Saudi Arabia islands transfer

Two Red Sea islands will be transferred from Egypt to Saudi Arabia control this week, with Israel approving of the deal.

Israel says it backs the controversial handover of two Red Sea islands from Egyptian to Saudi control, despite having no formal relations with Riyadh.

Tiran and Sanafir islands in the Gulf of Aqaba have been under Cairo’s administration since at least the 1950s, but will be handed over to Saudi Arabia later this week.

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said Saudi Arabia has agreed to respect the Israeli-Egyptian peace deal of 1979, which allows for free shipping in the Red Sea to the port of Eilat.

Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had been notified of the deal and raised no objections to the transfer, Haaretz reported.

Egyptians say that the two uninhabited islands are an integral part of the country and that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi effectively “sold” Tiran and Sanafir to Riyadh following a visit by Saudi King Salman last year.

They say that Sisi “sold off” the islands in return for financial and political support from Riyadh.

The decision has divided even members of Sisi’s strictly controlled regime and led to the biggest protests since former President Mohamed Morso was overthrown in a coup in 2013.

Egyptian lawyers have launched a case to prevent the transfer, which is expected to take place on Saturday.

Cairo has clamped down on all criticism of the deal fearing protests could threaten the regime.