At first it was just rumors that Israel’s head of government had traveled to Saudi Arabia. A minister has now confirmed Netanyahu’s stay. It is a historically significant visit.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was on a visit to Saudi Arabia. Education Minister Joaw Gallant confirmed reports from domestic media on Monday. According to the state radio station Kan and the army radio, Netanyahu met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Sunday and also met with the outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Gallant spoke of a “great success”. It was of great importance that this meeting took place and was announced semi-officially, he told the army radio. It is the first public trip by an Israeli head of government to Saudi Arabia.
Aviation data shows flight from Netanyahu
Saudi Arabia had previously denied that such a meeting had taken place. The Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan wrote, referring to the media reports on Twitter: “There was no such meeting. The only government representatives present were American and Saudi Arabian.” There was also no mention of Netanyahu’s visit in the Saudi state media.
However, a journalist for the newspaper “Haaretz” published aviation data showing the flight of a business plane from Tel Aviv to the Saudi Arabian city of Noem on the Red Sea. The Crown Prince and Pompeo wanted to meet there on Sunday. Israeli media reported that Netanyahu was accompanied on his trip by foreign intelligence chief Joseph Cohen.
Saudi Arabia rejects normalization of relations
Cohen is an important advocate of discreet efforts to establish diplomatic contacts with the Gulf States. Pompeo is trying to persuade the regional superpower Saudi Arabia, like its neighbors United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, to establish official relations with Israel.
The background is on the one hand fears that Iran is gaining power in the region and on the other hand the approaching end of the term of office of US President Donald Trump, who was defeated by challenger Joe Biden in the election earlier this month. So far, the Saudi royal family has refused to normalize relations with Israel. However, it now allows Israeli aircraft to cross domestic airspace for new destinations in the Gulf region and for destinations in Asia.