Monday, November 23, 2020

Netanyahu Makes Secret Visit to Saudi Arabia

The plane returned to Israel after only a few hours


Nov 23, 2020.

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mossad chief Yossi Cohen met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Neom, Saudi Arabia on Sunday, Israeli sources confirmed.

Netanyahu used a private plane belonging to businessman Udi Angel, which he has used for past diplomatic trips. The plane left Israel at 5 p.m. on Sunday and returned after midnight.

The Israeli and Saudi sides discussed Iran and normalization, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing a Saudi source.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan denied the meeting took place on Twitter, saying only Saudi and American officials were present.

Yet Education Minister Yoav Gallant confirmed the meeting, calling it an “amazing achievement” and “a matter of great importance” in an interview with Army Radio.

The trip was kept tightly under wraps as it was planned for over a month, with Netanyahu not informing Defense Minister Benny Gantz or Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi before it took place.

"Gantz is playing politics while the prime minister is making peace," Netanyahu's social media adviser Topaz Luk tweeted as reports of the visit came out.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also met with Netanyahu and MBS, as the crown prince is known, in Neom, a new city in northern Saudi Arabia on the Red Sea meant to show of the Kingdoms’ technological advancement.

Pompeo has encouraged Saudi Arabia and other Arab states to follow the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in establishing diplomatic relations with Israel. Thus far, Saudi Arabia has only allowed Israel to fly over its airspace.

On Sunday, however, Prince Faisal told Reuters that normalization with Israel would only come after "a permanent and comprehensive peace agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis including the establishment of a Palestinian state on 1967 borders."

The minister said his country has "supported normalization with Israel for a long time," pointing out that they authored the Saudi Peace Initiative that would have the Arab world establish ties with Israel in exchange for their vision of a two-state solution.

US President Donald Trump mentioned the possibility that Saudi Arabia would join the Abraham Accords Israel signed with other Gulf States, but soon after, reports came out of a generational divide, by which the 84-year-old King Salman remained loyal to the traditional Saudi position regarding normalization and the Palestinians, while the 35-year-old MBS supports open ties with Israel.

However, soon after, Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud, the former longtime ambassador to the US, gave an interview to the Saudi-backed news channel Al-Arabiya sharply criticizing the Palestinian leadership.

Meetings between Netanyahu and senior Saudi officials had been discussed several times in the past, going back nearly 10 years. A former official close to the prime minister said that early in the previous decade, there were attempts to have Netanyahu meet top Saudi officials on an American ship in the Red Sea, which did not come to fruition.

The meeting would have taken place around the same time as the coronavirus cabinet meeting was expected to take place. The Prime Minister's Office released a statement explaining that the meeting would be pushed off because ministers Izhar Shay and Ze'ev Elkin needed more time to work on their digital surveillance program, which turned out to be a cover story.

The Prime Minister’s Office did not comment on the matter.



 

Jerusalem Post