Aqaba, Gulf of

Aqaba, Gulf of, northeastern arm of the Red Sea, 118 mi (190 km) long and 10 to 15 mi (16.1 to 24.1 km) wide, between the Sinai and Arabian peninsulas; a part of the Great Rift Valley. The gulf, which is entered through the Straits of Tiran, has played a major role in the tensions and wars between Israel and the Arab states (Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia) bordering it. Aqaba, with the Israeli port of Elat at its head, was Israel's only accessible waterway to E Africa, Asia, and Australia when Egypt closed the Suez Canal between 1967 to 1975. The Gulf of Aqaba was blockaded by the Arabs from 1949 to 1956 and again in 1967, despite the fact that it was declared (1958) an international waterway by the United Nations. In the wake of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Israel occupied the Sinai and hence strategic points along the Straits of Tiran to insure open passage of its shipping. As a result of the Camp David accords of 1978, and the ensuing Egypt-Israel peace treaty (1979), Israel withdrew from its positions on the Straits of Tiran. The Gulf of Aqaba played a major role in the Iran-Iraq War throughout the 1980s, when it became a vital supply port for Iraq via Jordan. Later, with the imposition of international sanctions against Iraq and the ensuing Persian Gulf War (1991), the Gulf of Aqaba served as an important blockade point for coalition forces against goods bound for Iraq.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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