Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secretly met with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Sunday, which would be the first known meeting between senior Israeli and Saudi officials amid a push by the Trump administration to normalize ties between the longtime adversaries, according to A.P. News, citing Hebrew-language media.
Netanyahu and Yossi Cohen, head of Israel's Mossad spy agency, took a rare flight to the city of Neom, located in the Tabuk Province of northwestern Saudi Arabia, on Sunday, where they met with the crown prince and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Constructive visit with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in NEOM today. The United States and Saudi Arabia have come a long way since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and King Abdul Aziz Al Saud first laid the foundation for our ties 75 years ago. pic.twitter.com/KZ4XMkah03— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) November 23, 2020
Sources told WSJ that senior officials from both countries discussed a wide range of issues, including the normalization of ties between both countries, along with other topics concerning Iran - no agreements were reached at the meeting, the sources added.
The meeting, possibly orchestrated by the Trump administration to isolate Iran and advance Israel's status in the Middle East, could suggest direct diplomatic relations may improve if an agreement is reached and result in a regional realignment, ultimately benefiting the U.S. However, the Saudi government has ignored calls to normalize ties with Israel as long as its conflict with the Palestinians remains unresolved.
Saudi state media did not report on the meeting.
However, flight tracking data showed an "absolutely rare Israeli flight direct to new Saudi mega-city Neom on Red Sea shore It was Bibi's ex-fav bizjet t7-cpx. Back to Tel Aviv after 5 hours on the ground," tweeted the editor of Haaretz.
ABSOLUTELY rare Israeli flight direct to new Saudi mega-city Neom on Red Sea shore— avi scharf (@avischarf) November 23, 2020
It was Bibi's ex-fav bizjet t7-cpx. Back to Tel Aviv after 5 hours on ground pic.twitter.com/Ty9aedYbsK
Normalizing relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel before resolving Palestinian statehood would be a major power shift in the region, upending a decades-old pan-Arab position. As WSJ points out, Saudi Arabia's king has had disagreements with his son for embracing Israel.
As explained by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, formalizing Saudi-Israeli relations would help each country achieve several strategic and military goals:
Saudi Arabia and Israel want to see the United States use its military might to defeat, not just contain, the threat from Iran. They both actively push for an all-encompassing and hard-to-get U.S.-Iran deal that conflates the U.S. priorities of halting Iran's nuclear program and attacks on U.S. interests with countering Iran's broader geopolitical expansion across the region.
Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States all want Washington to remain actively invested in the fight against terrorism in the Middle East.
So is the rush by the Trump administration to normalize relations with the Israeli-Gulf States a sign that war with Iran is on the horizon?