The US-led peacekeepers that are now ensuring international shipping retains freedom of access to the Gulf of Aqaba will hand over their responsibility to a remote-controlled camera-based system.
The departure of the tiny Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) contingent situated on Tiran Island, which lies in the straits at the mouth of the gulf, was announced last week by US President Joe Biden during his visit to Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Tiran Straits connects the Gulf of Aqaba, whose coastline is shared by Israel and three Arab nations, and the Red Sea.
During its checkered history, the Straits of Tiran were blockaded by Egypt in May 1967 among triggers for its war with Israel the following month. Another war has broken among the two countries in Sinai in 1973.
Atop Tiran, the MFO, which deployed peacekeepers across the demilitarized Sinai, was ensuring the free movement in and out of the Gulf of Aqaba as part of the monitoring the1979 peace accord between Egypt and Israel brokered by the US.
Egypt handed Tiran Island along with next-door Sanafir Island to Saudi Arabia in 2017.
Neither MFO nor Egypt, Israel, or the United States has publicly discussed when the contingent will leave nor what might follow but, in line with the deal, any MFO redeployment from the island requires agreement with all three countries.
It has also been rumored by two officials from another of the countries that cameras already installed at an MFO base in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, 4 km across the Straits of Tiran from the now Saudi-held islands, would be upgraded for the task.
For those cameras to be kept and operated, however, security coordination would be inevitable and necessary between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which have no formal ties at the moment, a diplomatic source said, confirming also that MFO had cameras on Tiran.
According to a source in Washington, the agreement called for cameras to be placed at the MFS’s existing facilities, leaving in the game as placement sites both Sharm el-Sheikh and Tiran.
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