Jerusalem: In an unprecedented development Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Saudi Arabia for a clandestine meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Israeli media reported on Monday.
A member of Netanyahu’s cabinet and Likud party confirmed reports that the Israeli leader had held a secret meeting in Saudi Arabia, calling it an “amazing achievement”, according to Aljazeera.
“The very fact the meeting happened, and was outed publicly, even if half-officially right now, is a matter of great importance,” Education Minister Yoav Gallant told Army Radio when asked about the visit.
Sunday’s meeting marked the first known encounter between senior Israeli and Saudi officials, amid a US push to convince Arab countries to normalise ties with Israel to counter Islamic republic of Iran.
Earlier on Monday, Israel’s Kan public radio and Army Radio said Mossad chief Yossi Cohen also attended the meeting, which was reportedly held in Neom on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast.
Hebrew-language media cited an unnamed Israeli official as saying that Netanyahu and Yossi Cohen, flew to the Saudi Arabia on Sunday, where they met with the crown prince. The prince was there for talks with visiting United Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
A Gulfstream IV private jet took off just after 1740 GMT from Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, according to data from website FlightRadar24.com. The flight traveled south along the eastern edge of the Sinai Peninsula before turning toward Neom and landing just after 1830 GMT, according to the data. The flight took off from Neom around 2150 GMT and followed the same route back to Tel Aviv.
The Israeli prime minister’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Pompeo traveled with an American press pool on his trip throughout the Mideast, but left them at the Neom airport when he went into his visit with the crown prince.
While Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates have reached deals under the Trump administration to normalise ties with Israel, Saudi Arabia so far has remained out of reach.
Saudi Arabia has long supported the Palestinians in their effort to secure an independent state. However, analysts and insiders suggest 35-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is likely more open to the idea of normalising relations with the Jewish state which holds the Islam’s third holiest place, the Al-Aqsa mosque and without major progress in the moribund peace process.
The kingdom approved the use of Saudi airspace for Israeli flights to the UAE, a decision announced the day after Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, met with Prince Mohammed in Riyadh. Bahrain normalising ties also suggests at least a Saudi acquiescence to the idea, as the island kingdom, faced with a popular unrest, relies on Riyadh.
Israel has long had clandestine ties to Gulf Arab states that have strengthened in recent years as they have confronted a shared threat from rising Iran.
Gaza-based Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which have a close relationship with Saudi rival Iran, both blasted the Saudi government in separate statements following the report, asking for clarifications from Riyadh.
Hamas called the visit a “humiliation and a violation of Palestinian rights,” while Islamic Jihad said it was a “betrayal of Al Aqsa and Mecca.” The Palestinian Authority had yet to issue a response.
Saudi denies reports of Netanyahu meeting MBS in the kingdom
Saudi Arabia on Monday denied Israeli media reports of landmark talks between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“I have seen press reports about a purported meeting between HRH the Crown Prince and Israeli officials during the recent visit by @SecPompeo,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said in a tweet.
“No such meeting occurred. The only officials present were American and Saudi.”
I have seen press reports about a purported meeting between HRH the Crown Prince and Israeli officials during the recent visit by @SecPompeo. No such meeting occurred. The only officials present were American and Saudi.
— فيصل بن فرحان (@FaisalbinFarhan) November 23, 2020
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