Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secretly flew to Saudi Arabia in the weekend to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as per Israeli media reports.
Sunday's meeting marked the first known high level meeting between the long-time foes. Israel has been pushing for a long time in its efforts for regional acceptance. Israel's Kan public radio and Army Radio on Monday said Mossad chief Yossi Cohen also attended the meeting, which was reportedly held in Neom on Saudi Arabia's Red Sea coast.
According to Israeli daily Haaretz, flight tracking data showed a private jet previously used by Netanyahu took off from Tel Aviv to Saudi Arabia's Red Sea city of Neom, where Prince Mohammed and Pompeo had a scheduled meeting, on Sunday night. The aircraft remained in the city for a few hours before returning to Israel.
Peace in the Middle East
While Israel shares a common enemy in Iran with Saudia Arabia and other Arab states, the continued occupation over Palestinians has left Israel isolated in the Middle East. On the other hand, the Trump administration, which is close to Netanyahu, has made serious efforts in its final weeks to ease bilateral ties between the hardline Israeli government and the Arab states. But despite a push by Washington to broker peace deal amid the regional powers, only two Arab states, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, have agreed to the normalization of ties so far. However, taking Saudi Arabia on its side in itself would mark a serious diplomatic win for Israel – a rapprochement built largely on shared concerns over Iran.
The United States has always associated Saudi Arabia with more power in shaping the regional dynamism. Riyadh has so far declined to normalise ties with Israel, saying Palestinian statehood goals should be addressed first. But the Saudis have allowed Israeli airliners to overfly their territory to newly available Gulf destinations and to Asia.
Over the weekend, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said that his country has "supported normalisation with Israel for a long time, but one very important thing must happen first: a permanent and full peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians".
Formalizing Saudi-Israeli relations would help each country achieve a number of strategic and military goals. But if and when Saudi Arabia and Israel do establish official relations, the results will not necessarily be transformative.
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 US-Iran deal that conflates America's priorities of halting Iran's nuclear program and advance US interests in the Middle East, along with countering Iran's growing geopolitical expansion across the region. By encouraging regional partners to normalize relations, Washington seriously hopes to redistribute its defence burden among a more integrated defence network of regional allies.
Over the weekend, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said his country has "supported normalisation with Israel for a long time, but one very important thing must happen first: a permanent and full peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians".