Israeli minister Netanyahu meets Saudi crown prince, but Riyadh denies

Education Minister Yoav Gallant, speaking on Israeli army radio on Monday, called the secret meeting in Neom, Saudi Arabia, “an incredible achievement” and congratulated Netanyahu.

“Suppose the existence of the meeting, the fact that it has been made public, even if it is currently a semi-official issue, is a very important issue in all respects and aspects,” a member of Netanyahu Likud’s party asked about Sunday’s meeting. Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo was also in Neom, but also met bin Salman on his tour of the Middle East. Several Israeli news organizations reported that Pompeo also attended the meeting.

However, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan denied that the meeting had taken place. “I have seen press reports about the alleged meeting between Crown Prince HRH and Israeli officials during the last visit to @SecPompeo. No such meeting took place. The only official was American and Saudi,” bin Farhan tweeted on Monday.

Cale Brown, the deputy spokesman for the State Department, declined to comment on the reports of the pool traveling with Pompo. His public schedule included a single meeting with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, which was shut off from the press. Pompeo didn’t pick up questions from the traveling press pool throughout the 10-day trip in Europe and the Middle East.

The Israeli government did not comment on the meeting, which was reported by several Israeli press outlets, but there was no formal rejection. Netanyahu was joined by Yossi Cohen, the leader of Mossad, who, according to Israeli reports, was at the forefront of normalization efforts between Israel and the Sunni Gulf states.

According to the flight tracking websites of the ADS-B Exchange, FlightAware, and others, a private jet frequently used by Israeli officials was tracked on an extremely unusual route from Israel to Saudi Arabia and the city of Neom on Sunday. The flight returned to Israel a few hours later.

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If the meeting is confirmed, it would be the first of its kind between the Israeli Prime Minister and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, and comes just a few months after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain normalize their relationship with Israel. Bahrain almost certainly gave tacit Saudi approval to the move, given the small kingdom’s reliance on and proximity to Saudi Arabia, analysts said.

Amos Yadlin, executive director of the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies, suggested that such a meeting would be an opportunity for Pompeo to advance the legacy of the Trump administration and try to facilitate further normalization agreements with a view to the White House. 2024. Perhaps more importantly, Yadlin said the three parties here are likely to work together against Iran and plan what to do before the Biden government takes office and pursues a nuclear deal with Iran.

Pompeo and the Trump administration have put tremendous pressure on Saudis to normalize relations with Israel, a senior Saudi diplomat told CNN. Even in the declining days of Trump’s office, Pompeo – who had not yet acknowledged Joe Biden’s victory in the election – made progress and urged more countries to normalize relations with Israel. Before arriving in Saudi Arabia, Pompeo was in Qatar, another country on the White House’s list of normalization with Israel.

“I wholeheartedly believe that the Trump government policy we have created has created the conditions for leaders to make that decision exactly, and if they do, it will be a glorious thing for the region,” Pompeo told the Jerusalem Post. under the Israeli stop. “People in these countries are doing better, [with] greater prosperity and opportunity. “

At least so far, these efforts have been walled in, Saudi officials have insisted on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and recognition of the two states ’solution is a necessary precondition for normalization under the 2002 Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative.

“We did [our position] “It’s very clear,” Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan told CNN. We have put an initiative on the table and we believe that this is the right initiative to bring peace to the Middle East, [recognizing] a two-state solution and the rights of the Palestinians. “

Yet the Arab Peace Initiative has shown cracks that the Gulf State’s desire to form a common front with Iran and move closer to Israel has widened. The most significant of these were the normalization agreements signed with the UAE and Bahrain and Israel. At least so far, the Saudis have not made that decision, but the signs of their growing proximity to Israel – and their frustration with the Palestinians – are clearly growing.

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In an interview with Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV last month, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, tore off Palestinian leaders, saying, “The loser is always betrayed.” According to him, Palestinian criticism of the new normalization agreements is “shocking” and unacceptable. “They would fail and turn back to us again and support them again. We went even further and resisted the world by justifying the actions of the Palestinians while knowing that they were not justified. But we did not want to stand with anyone against them,” Prince Bandar said.

Saudi Arabia represents a huge prize for Trump and Netanyahu, who have both suggested that several Gulf countries will soon normalize relations with Israel. Saudi would be the most significant country to exist as the de facto leader of the Sunni Muslim world. Saudi’s decision to normalize relations with Israel could captivate other Sunni countries. The reported meeting between Netanyahu and bin Salman would be a step in that direction.

Shortly before the private business jet left Israel, Netanyahu predicted a steady change in relations with other states in the Gulf. At the memorial ceremony for Israel’s first leader, David Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu said: “Following the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, we recently reached three new peace agreements and normalization agreements within six weeks: with the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan. by strengthening its power and strengthening its relations with the moderate Arab world, which are moving towards stability and progress – we will see more Arab states expanding the circle of peace. “

Speaking at the Likud faction meeting in the Knesset on Monday afternoon, Netanyahu did not speak specifically about the meeting, but said he was working to broaden the range of countries that have ties to Israel.