It is a fairly well kept secret that Israel has been occupying parts of Saudi Arabia since 1967. Tiran and Sanafir are two islands with a combined area of 113 square kilometres, so they are small, and are in a very strategic location at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, through which sea traffic to Israel’s southern port of Eilat must pass en route to and from the Red Sea. Israel maintains an early warning post on the islands.
Although the Saudi Arabian government might claim that the islands are small, unimportant coral reef islands, their position is such that whoever controls them controls the Gulf of Aqaba. They are as important as the Hanish archipelago at the other end of the Red Sea over which a conflict raged in 1995. International arbitration determined that Hanish belongs to Yemen. The Israeli occupation of Tiran and Sanafir determines that, if nothing else, the Israelis control the islands and don’t really care who they belong to. Saudi Arabia has fought for similar islands but seems to be reluctant to challenge the Israeli occupation. Is it because the islands have no material value?
The islands were occupied by Israel after the late King Faisal had given control of them to Egypt to prevent Israeli ships being able to get to Eilat during the Six-Day War. After the ceasefire, Saudi Arabia and Egypt each claimed that the islands belonged to the other, leaving them free for the Israeli occupation to begin. When Egypt made peace with Israel in 1978, President Anwar Sadat refused to include them in the peace agreement, arguing that they belong to Saudi Arabia. A computer search reveals that even Google labels them as “Saudi Arabia” and maps of the country in governmental offices show clearly that they are Saudi territory, so why the reluctance to challenge Israel, and why is there a media blackout?
It’s quite simple: Israel needs an outlet to the Red Sea for its shipping. The only Israeli presence on the islands is military to ensure that the shipping lanes are kept clear for its imports and exports, including military hardware to fight against Arab states. By international agreement, a multinational UN force is also stationed on the islands which “monitors the compliance of all parties” with this agreement. In reality, this means that American and Egyptian troops help to protect Israel’s shipping lanes through the Straits of Tiran, Saudi Arabia’s occupied sovereign territory. What would the people of Saudi Arabia say if they knew?
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