Joe Biden appears to fall asleep in a meeting with former Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett. (Photo credit: White House)
The upcoming tour of West Asia by US President Joe Biden will likely facilitate several deals between Israel and Saudi Arabia, according to reports.
One report by Israel Hayom suggests that Israel will agree to the transfer of two Red Sea islands from Egypt to Saudi Arabia.
This transfer deal was first reported by Israel’s Walla News on 23 May. The islands, which once belonged to Saudi Arabia, were handed over to Egyptian control in 1950 by Riyadh.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia have been negotiating over the islands of Tiran and Sanafir since 2018, when the Egyptian Supreme Court approved a bilateral deal to transfer the islands to Saudi Arabia.
The islands also share a waterway, which is connected to Israel’s southernmost maritime borders, and which requires Israeli involvement in the negotiations.
Joe Biden is set to visit Israel on 19 July before heading to Saudi Arabia.
Israeli news outlet Ynet also reported that ahead of Biden’s visit, Tel Aviv hopes to strike a deal with Riyadh that would allow the use of Saudi airspace for direct passenger flights between Tel Aviv and Tokyo.
Currently, Saudi Arabia restricts Israeli flight activity over its airspace, with the exception of flights to Bahrain and the UAE, as the two nations have normalized diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv through the 2020 Abraham Accords.
Israeli media has referred to this exception as an indirect recognition of the controversial accords.
In a press conference on 24 May at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan stated that normalization with Israel “will not happen” until the Palestinian issue is fully solved.
Israel’s then foreign minister Yair Lapid said on 30 May that Tel Aviv has been talking with the US and Gulf Arab countries on possibilities for normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia.
Lapid’s statements were made following reports by Israeli media that reveal several senior security and political figures from Israel visited the kingdom over the past decade as part of US-sponsored efforts for the normalization of ties.
One of these secret meetings was between former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) in November 2020.
That meeting was also attended by former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and the former head of the Mossad, Yossi Cohen.