Peacekeepers on Red Sea island of Tiran to be replaced by remote cameras, sources say

It comes as US says observers will be pulled from island given to Saudi Arabia by Egypt in 2017

The Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir between Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and Saudi Arabia at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba. AFP
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Remote cameras will replace US-led peacekeepers on the small Saudi Arabian-owned Tiran Islands that lie in the Gulf of Aqaba, Reuters quoted officials as saying on Thursday.

The small outcrops lie at the mouth of the important waterway shared by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Israel.

Tiran Island was handed to Saudi Arabia by Egypt along with the neighbouring Sanafir Island in 2017 and the kingdom is seeking to develop both as tourist destinations.

The islands also hosted international peacekeepers since 1979 as part of an accord between Egypt and Israel to ensure the free movement in and out of the Gulf of Aqaba that also led to observers being posted across the demilitarised Sinai Peninsula.

The Straits of Tiran have a chequered history: Egypt blockaded them in May 1967, one of the triggers for its war with Israel the following month. The countries fought another war in the Sinai in 1973.

During a visit to Israel and Saudi Arabia last week, US President Joe Biden announced that the tiny Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) contingent on Tiran would depart.

Any MFO redeployment from the island requires Egyptian, US and Israeli agreement. None of those countries, nor the MFO, has publicly discussed when the contingent will leave nor what might follow.

But an official from one of the countries told Reuters: "The peacekeepers will be replaced by a camera-based system."

Two officials from another of the countries said cameras already in place at an MFO base in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El Sheikh, 4 kilometres across the Straits of Tiran from the now Saudi Arabian-held islands, would be upgraded for the task.

A diplomatic source who has visited Tiran said the MFO had cameras there as well.

A person in Washington familiar with the matter said the agreement called for cameras to be placed at the contingent's existing facilities, leaving open the possibility of both Sharm El Sheikh and Tiran as placement sites.

"It was important to Israel that as part of this process there be no compromising the commitment Israel got from Egypt, back with the peace deal, most importantly regarding freedom of shipping," Michael Herzog, Israeli ambassador to the US, told Tel Aviv radio station 102FM.

"This matter has been addressed."

Updated: July 21, 2022, 1:04 PM