The missing chapter in the BBC’s coverage of the Red Sea islands story

The BBC’s coverage of the Egyptian move to hand over the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabian control has been rather superficial. Announced during a visit by the Saudi king to Egypt, the move was not mentioned in an April 8th BBC report on that visit.

On April 10th the BBC News website published an article devoted entirely to the topic of online reactions to the agreement – “Saudi-Egyptian deal on Red Sea islands sparks anger” – and that was followed on April 13th by an article titled “Egypt’s Sisi hits out at ‘evil conspirators’ amid islands furore“.

There, readers found unchallenged amplification of the following statement:

“Mr Sisi said that Saudi Arabia had asked Egypt in 1950 to protect the two islands, situated at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, from Israel.”

In fact, the two islands were occupied by Egypt in 1949 – with Saudi consent – in order to enable Egypt to impose a blockade on shipping bound for the Israeli port of Eilat.

Remarkably, in none of its coverage has the BBC informed its audiences that additional parties also have a stake in this story – as the Times of Israel’s Raphael Ahern explains:map Tiran

According to article V of the peace treaty between Jerusalem and Cairo, the Strait of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba are considered international waterways “open to all nations for unimpeded and non-suspendable freedom of navigation and overflight.” Both countries pledged to “respect each other’s right to navigation and overflight for access to either country” through the strait and the gulf.”

So how did the handing over of the two islands to a third party not bound by the terms of that peace treaty go down in Israel? Ahern has some interesting answers to that question.

“Given that the islands are in a strategically crucial location for Israel, it was significant that officials in Jerusalem were quick to assert that they were unperturbed about the deal.

Riyadh gave Jerusalem written assurances that it intends to respect Israel’s rights to free passage through the Strait of Tiran, a crucial lifeline to Israel’s only Red Sea port in Eilat, officials said. Equally noteworthy is the fact that the deal was only struck after an agreement was reached between all four major stakeholders — Cairo, Riyadh, Washington, and Jerusalem.

“We reached an agreement between the four parties – the Saudis, the Egyptians, Israel and the United States – to transfer the responsibility for the islands, on condition that the Saudis fill in the Egyptians’ shoes in the military appendix of the [1979 Israel-Egypt] peace agreement,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told reporters Tuesday.”

The BBC, however, apparently found that significant development much less newsworthy than the Twitter and Facebook comments of anonymous Egyptians and Saudis. 

More from Hadar Sela
Weekend long read
Our weekly round-up of Middle East related background reading.
Read More
Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *