The siege of Ayla/ al-Aqaba (31 December 1170) was one of Saladin's earliest successes against the Crusaders and saw him gain control of a key point on the pilgrim route from Egypt to Mecca and Medina.
Ayla had been captured in 1116 by King Baldwin of Jerusalem, and formed the southern-most point of his kingdom. A crusader castle was built on an island just off the mainland, and this allowed the crusaders to control one of the pilgrim routes from Egypt to Mecca and Medina.
Saladin decided to eliminate this crusader outpost in 1170. This was a major effort. A fleet of prefabricated ships was built in Cairo and carried across the desert on camels to the Red Sea where they were assembled. Saladin also carried out what might have been a diversionary attack on Gaza, starting with a siege of the Templar castle at Darum. When King Amalric of Jerusalem approached Darum, Saladin abandoned the siege, raided Gaza and then retreated. The Crusaders were thus drawn to the Mediterranean coast.
On 31 December Saladin's land army joined with his fleet in the Red Sea and captured Ayla. This was a prestigious success for the newly important vizier of Egypt, and helped to increase his prestige at a time when he was still slightly vulnerable.