Netanyahu made secret Saudi visit: Israeli media

2020-11-23 15:00:38 GMT2020-11-23 23:00:38(Beijing Time) Sina English

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks next to US Secretary of State during a joint statement after meeting in Jerusalem last Thursday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secretly flew to Saudi Arabia on Sunday to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and visiting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Israel’s Kan public radio and Army Radio said on Monday.

If confirmed, it would be the first publicly acknowledged trip by an Israeli leader to ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, which has traditionally championed the Palestinian cause and shunned all official contacts with Israel. 

As US President Donald Trump’s term winds down, Pompeo has been trying to coax the Gulf powerhouse to follow its neighbors, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, in establishing formal relations with Israel.

Netanyahu’s office and the US Embassy in Jerusalem had no immediate comment.

Saudi state media made no mention of any visit by Netanyahu, and the Saudi government’s media office did not immediately respond to queries.

The rapprochement between Israel and the Gulf states is built largely on shared concerns about Iran — and, potentially, about whether US President-elect Joe Biden will review Washington’s regional policies.

Netanyahu was accompanied by the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, Yossi Cohen, Kan reported.

Cohen has spearheaded discreet diplomatic outreach to Gulf Arab states, said the Israeli media reports, quoting unidentified Israeli officials.

Riyadh has so far declined to normalize ties with Israel. But since August it has allowed Israeli airliners to overfly Saudi territory to newly available Gulf destinations and Asia.

Avi Scharf of Israel’s Haaretz newspaper published aviation tracking data showing that a business jet had made a brief trip from Tel Aviv to Neom, on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast, where bin Salman and Pompeo had a scheduled meeting on Sunday.