Israeli and Saudi Leaders Meet

Sunday 22nd November saw a most significant event in Middle East relations. Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, flew to Saudi Arabia with the head of Mossad, Yossi Cohen, to meet the kingdom’s Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, and US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.

Several social media accounts that follow air traffic in the region showed that an Israeli business jet took off from Ben Gurion Airport before 8 pm Sunday evening and landed at the Saudi town of Neom, around 30 miles south of Eilat. It was on the ground for about three and a half hours before returning to Israel.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Prince Mohammed bin SalmanBenjamin Netanyahu and Mohammed bin Salman (photos: Maya Alleruzzo and Bandar Al-Jaloud/AFP)

A member of Israel’s cabinet confirmed today that Netanyahu had joined a meeting in Saudi Arabia, describing it as an “amazing achievement”. Education Minister, Yoav Gallant, told Israel’s Army Radio:

“The very fact the meeting happened, and was outed publicly,
even if half-officially right now, is a matter of great importance.”

Coming within an American push to convince Arab countries to normalise ties with Israel, it was the first known encounter between Israeli and Saudi leaders.

Saudi government advisers have confirmed that Riyadh’s Crown Prince and Israel’s Prime Minister had a meeting on Sunday, but indicated that no substantial agreements were reached.

One source said the focus of the meeting was Iran and the establishment of diplomatic ties between Riyadh and Jerusalem.

In an interview on Saturday, the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, said the kingdom’s position had not changed.

“We have supported normalisation with Israel for a long time, because we are the authors
of the 2002 Arab Peace initiative, which envisioned complete normalisation with Israel.”

“But there is one very important thing that has to happen first, which is a permanent
and full peace deal between the Palestinians and Israelis that delivers a
Palestinian state with dignity within the 1967 borders to the Palestinians.”

If that is Saudi policy, discussions on normalised relations with Israel are unlikely to progress further soon.

UPDATE – 24th November

Following yesterday morning’s reports of a meeting, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister has denied that Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, flew to the Gulf kingdom on Sunday for a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud tweeted:

“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.”