Israel and the Saudis’ Secret Meet-up

November 24, 2020
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Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Tuesday, 24 November 2020 | What happened: Israeli media reports suggest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Saudi Arabia on Sunday and met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

  • The reports emerged after Avi Scharf in Haaretz published aviation tracking data of a private jet that made a rare trip between Tel Aviv and Neom in northwestern Saudi Arabia.
  • The flight remained on the ground for about two hours and returned to Israel at around half past midnight. It is the same private plane that Netanyahu has used several times for his visits to Russia.
  • It is thought that Netanyahu was accompanied by Mossad chief Yossi Cohen. According to Israeli media, neither Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi nor Defense Minister Benny Gantz were told about the trip.
  • Pompeo and MBS were already scheduled to meet in Neom on Sunday. Pompeo tweeted earlier: “Pleasure to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Our security and economic partnership is strong and we’ll continue to harness it to advance efforts to counter malign Iranian influence in the Gulf, economic goals under the Vision 2030 plan, and human rights reform.”

Context: Saudi Arabia has been supportive of Israel’s normalization agreements with UAE and Bahrain but is thought not to be ready to endorse their own relationship publicly.

  • Normalization with Saudi Arabia would be the most significant development of all. So far, the Saudi monarchy have stuck to conventional thinking that normalization must include significant progress towards a Palestinian state. Over the weekend, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said he has “supported normalization with Israel for a long time, but one very important thing must happen first: a permanent and full peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians”.
  • Since the Israeli–UAE peace deal, Saudi Arabia will now allow Israeli airliners to use its airspace for commercial travel.
  • Pompeo was in Israel last week and has continued to tour the region. The meeting with MBS and Netanyahu likely focused on their shared concerns over Iran’s nuclear program and its support of proxy militias in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria as well as the prospect of formal Israeli–Saudi ties.
  • Covert ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia have developed in recent years. The young crown prince is believed to be keen to further develop ties, while his father, King Salman remains more cautious.

Looking ahead: The meeting is primarily a signal to Iran about the growing alliance between Israel and moderate Arab states.

Posted on November 24, 2020

Source: (Excerpt from an article was originally published by BICOM on November 23, 2020. Time-related language has been modified to reflect our publication today. See original article at this link.)

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