by Boaz Bismuth
The new romance between Egypt and Saudi Arabia needs to be put in regional context.
In this stormy Middle East of ours, we have grown accustomed to this rule of thumb: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." Considering Egypt's announcement that it will return the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia after so many years, we may want to consider a new rule of thumb that says "the friend of my friend is my friend."
But because we are in the Middle East, it would perhaps be wise to adopt this optimistic phrase with eyes wide open.
On May 23, 1967, then-Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran to Israel, providing Jerusalem with a casus belli. Six years later, another war was fought, and then came a peace treaty. Agreements were signed between Israel and Egypt, stipulating that Egypt could not station military forces on the islands, as doing so is prohibited along the border between the two countries.
The new romance between Egypt and Saudi Arabia needs to be put in regional context. Shiite Iran is expanding its sphere of influence with the approval of the West (with special thanks to U.S. President Barack Obama), which is making Sunni states such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt nervous. Riyadh, which has lost its faith in Washington, is assembling a new coalition. After openly winking toward the Russians, the Saudis decided to forge a new Sunni axis with Egypt and Turkey.
The Saudi kingdom is still not ripe for relations with Israel, but it also has no interest in sabotaging the Israeli-Egyptian peace accord, certainly not while Iran poses a regional threat. For this reason we can assume the status quo will remain intact and the Straits of Tiran will not be closed to us, even as they are transferred to Saudi sovereignty. Nevertheless, the Saudis should be well aware that Israel will remain vigilant and on guard about this vital waterway at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba.
And by the way, the islands will remain under Egyptian control for another 65 years.
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