Island Details: Tiran & Sanafir

Tiran & Sanafir
Indian Ocean
Number of Islands (approx.)
Island Details
Two uninhabited and sandy desert islands in the Straits of Tiran which separate the Gulf of Aqaba from the Red Sea.*
Type of Islands
Surface Area (km²)
mountainous dry desert*
Highest Elevation (m)
Highest Elevation (name)
Dschabal Tīrān on Tiran*
Isolation Index
Climate Risk Index Rank (1993-2012)
Mean Sea Level Trends (mm/year)
Mean Sea Level (meta)
Population (total)
Census Year [Population (total)]
Population Density (p/km²)
Census Year [Population Density (p/km²)]
Population Growth (annual %)
Census Year [Population Growth (annual %)]
GDP (per capita in current US$)
Census Year (GDP)
Dominant Economic Sector
Census Year (HDI)
dependent (territory of Saudi Arabia)
Two desolate mounds of sand or key geopolitical nodes? Approaching the Tiran and Sanafir in a boat without any prior knowledge, it is hard to imagine that the two bare and dusty elevations whose arid surfaces resemble an inhospitable moon landscape could hold any political significance at all. A brief look through the history books, however, quickly reveals the enormous geostrategic relevance of the two neighbouring islands. In 1956 the two islands were occupied by the troops of Israel – a state that had only existed for eight years by then. The purpose was to secure the supply of oil for its European allies. Relations between the states involved in this conflict (Suez War) remained tense and escalated eleven years later into the Six-Day War. Once again, the casus belli for the military conflict was the occupation of the two islands – this time by the troops of Egypt, cutting off its regional arch enemy’s access to the Indian Ocean. The world had become divided into blocks by then, and both blocks held their breath. The closure of the strait between the two islands was regarded as a clear breach of the 1958 UNCLOS convention which granted freedom of navigation to all nations of the world. In later decades all went quiet on the two islands. They are still not inhabited by civilians, but 1,900 soldiers and twelve multinational peace keepers and the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) are stationed there. In April 2016 the islands suddenly leapt back to international attention when Egypt made to give them to Saudi Arabia as a sort of diplomatic gift. The islands are likely to remain a talking point. Despite the continuing territorial uncertainties, there are plans to link the two islands with a bridge spanning 32 km, creating another land link between Africa and Asia. The associated road and rail links will also run across Tiran. It is questionable whether the regional powers will really warm to this gigantic construction project which will yet again shift the geopolitical architecture of the wider region. *