A leaked phone recording has revealed that Egypt sought support from Israel before signing a deal with Saudi Arabia on handing over two of its strategic Red Sea islands to the Arab kingdom, a contentious decision that sparked widespread public outrage in the North African country.
Late on Friday, Egyptian opposition TV channel Mekameleen broadcast an undated telephone conversation between Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Yitzhak Molcho, a childhood friend and close adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on the subject of the transfer of the two uninhabited islands of Tiran and Sanafir.
According to the report, during their conversation, Shoukry was heard as saying at one point that Cairo “will not agree to any amendment to the agreement without the prior, formal consent of” Tel Aviv, and the pair even discussed the wording of the deal.
This is reportedly the first time Tel Aviv’s involvement in the hugely controversial agreement is revealed.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi announced in April last year that the two islands fell within the territorial waters of Saudi Arabia as stipulated in a border accord signed between Cairo and Riyadh earlier that month.
The deal triggered unprecedented mass demonstrations, with protesters slamming the arrangement as unconstitutional. A number of lawyers also filed a lawsuit in the administrative court to block the deal.
Protesters have accused the Egyptian leader of surrendering Egyptian territory in return for Saudi money amid reports that Cairo was receiving 20 billion dollars in aid from Riyadh to relinquish sovereignty of the islands.
Back in June 2016, a lower administrative court rejected the agreement, arguing that the border demarcation agreement was illegal, prompting the country’s State Lawsuits Authority, representing the Sisi government in legal cases, to lodge an appeal.
However, in late December, the Cairo government endorsed the controversial agreement in defiance of the June ruling and sent it to the parliament for ratification.
But on January 16, the country’s Supreme Administrative Court confirmed Egyptian sovereignty over the two islands by ruling against the appeal by Sisi’s government.
The ruling, which came after mass protests and calls for prosecution of Sisi for treason over the transfer deal, is final and could not be appealed again.
Riyadh and Cairo argued that the islands belong to Saudi Arabia and that the Arab kingdom had asked Egypt in 1950 to protect them. However, lawyers and opponents said Egypt’s sovereignty over the islands dates back to a 1906 treaty, before Saudi Arabia was founded.