Gulf of Aqaba

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Jordan's only seaport, at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba, on the Red Sea.

Aqaba was a small fishing village and site of an Ottoman fort when it was incorporated into the Emi-rate of Transjordan in 1925, giving Jordan its only outlet to the sea. In 1959 Aqaba's port became operational, and in 1976 a free trade zone was opened. The port experienced substantial development as a result of aid from Iraq, which needed safe access to a seaport during its war with Iran from 1980 to 1988. By mid-1990, facilities at the port included twenty berths, one container terminal, two 40-ton gantry cranes, and 358,000 square yards of storage area. Iraqi aid also helped to develop the country's roads and overland transportation systems.

Cargo handled through Aqaba increased steadily throughout the 1980s, peaking in 1988 as trade with Iraq increased to 18.7 million tons of imports and exports handled in 1989. Cargo handling fell sharply to 10 million tons after the United Nations imposed sanctions against Iraq in 1990. The continuation of sanctions hurt Aqaba considerably. Jordanians complained that crews from warships from the United States and other countries boarded and searched their ships for illicit Iraq-bound cargo. The lifting of UN sanctions in 2003 boded well for Aqaba's economy. The city's population at that time was 95,000.

In addition to the port, Aqaba is a popular tourist resort known for its beaches and water
sports, and it is the site of some of the world's most spectacular coral reefs.


Gubser, Peter. Jordan: Crossroads of Middle Eastern Events. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1983.

Jenab Tutunji

Updated by Michael R. Fischbach

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Gulf of Aqaba, 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.

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Only 170 kilometers (106 miles) long by 25 kilometers (16 miles) wide, the Gulf of Aqaba separates the Sinai Peninsula from the Arabian coast. Four countries share its northern section: Egypt controls the western shore; Saudi Arabia the eastern shore; Jordan possesses a 25-kilometer corridor along the Gulf in which is located the city of Aqaba (the country's only maritime port); Israel has a 10-kilometer strip that includes the city of Eilat. The Gulf of Aqaba has always been, regionally, of strategic significance. Cargo through the port of Aqaba increased throughout the 1980s, partly as a result of development of the Jordanian port with aid from Iraq, to a high of 18.7 million tons in 1989. Cargo handling fell sharply (to 10 million tons) after the imposition of United Nations (UN) sanctions against Iraq in 1990. The lifting of UN sanctions in 2003 suggested that cargo shipment through the Gulf of Aqaba would again be on the rise.

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Aqaba, Gulf of Northeast arm of the Red Sea between the Sinai Peninsula and Saudi Arabia. Aqaba and Elat lie at the n end of the Gulf. The gulf has played an important role in Arab-Israeli Wars. It was blockaded by the Arabs between 1949 and 1956, and again in 1967, when Israel held strategic points along the Strait of Tiran to guarantee open passage for ships. The Gulf has excellent coral beds and rich marine life.