JERUSALEM - Israeli media report that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Saudi Arabia Sunday and held a secret meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The Saudi foreign minister denied the reports and Netanyahu refused to comment. Israel sees Saudi Arabia as the key to a moderate axis in the Middle East that can challenge Iran.
Netanyahu’s reported trip to Saudi Arabia leaked after Israeli journalists posted on Twitter that a private plane had made a rare trip between Tel Aviv and Neom in Saudi Arabia on the Red Sea coast.
It was the same plane that Netanyahu had used in the past to visit Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the location was where U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was meeting Saudi Crown Prime Mohammed Bin Salman.
Pompeo was wrapping up a seven-state trip to the Middle East, presumably his last visit as secretary of state. Both the U.S. and Israeli press reported that the focus of the meeting was President-elect Joe Biden and his future policy on Iran.
Jacob Nagel, a former Israeli national security adviser, says there is unease about the future of U.S. policies toward the region.
“The Saudis are also afraid, I am sure they are afraid, because they don’t know what will be the Biden administration approach to the Gulf and to Israel; they don’t know their approach to other places, so I think this was also on the table talking about where the next peace is going. I hope it will be with the Saudis or with others and then the Saudis and where we are going countering the Iranian danger,” Nagel said.
Saudi Arabia and Israel share a fear that Iran will become a nuclear power. While Israel recently normalized relations with both the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, as well as Sudan, Saudi Arabia with its oil wealth is seen as the most important Persian Gulf country. Israel has long wanted to establish diplomatic relations with the Saudis, who have always said that Israel must first solve the Palestinian issue.
But ideas may be changing. While Saudi officials would not comment on the alleged meeting, Israel radio interviewed Mohammed Saud, a Saudi businessman, who said normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia is natural and that he hopes it happens soon.