A senior Saudi official commented that Netanyahu and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed Iran and normalization.
A senior Saudi Arabian official told the Wall Street Journal on Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Arabia’s heir to the throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, discussed Iran and normalization with Israel during a secret meeting held on the weekend.
According to the same source, no agreements were reached at the meeting, which was also attended by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Israel and Saudi Arabia have for the past several years made it clear to Washington that they have a shared interest in countering Iran, which regularly threatens both Israel and the Gulf countries.
“I think there’s a message to Iran. Look, there’s a front against you. There’s two months to go to the new administration. Beware. We are on the same page,” Yoel Guzansky told the Associated Press. Guzansky is a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, an influential Israeli think tank.
Netanyahu and Saudi leaders have expressed satisfaction that the Trump administration has taken a hard line on the Islamic Republic.
The meeting appears to put pressure on president-elect Joe Biden showing him that Israel and Saudi Arabia, the two biggest powers in the region, are united in their opposition to returning to the Iran nuclear deal, a step Biden said he would take if elected.
Hours after the story broke, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan denied that any such meeting had taken place.
“I saw media reports of a meeting that allegedly took place between the regent and senior Israeli officials during Foreign Minister Pompeo’s visit,” the Saudi foreign minister tweeted. “No such meeting took place. The only senior officials present at the meeting were Americans and Saudis.”
Reports Monday morning said Netanyahu on Sunday flew secretly in a private business jet to the Saudi city of Neom, only 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of the Israeli resort port city of Eilat. After a few hours on the ground, the plane returned to Israel landing at Ben Gurion Airport shortly after midnight.
Israel’s coronavirus cabinet was scheduled to meet Sunday to discuss measures to reopen schools and businesses, but on Saturday night the Prime Minister’s Office announced that the meeting would be postponed to Monday because two cabinet ministers had not finished preparing their recommendations. Israeli officials say that was a cover story for Netanyahu’s trip.
A senior Israeli source said that Netanyahu did not update Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi about his trip. While Netanyahu’s office would not comment on the reports Monday morning, his social media advisor Topaz Luk, tweeted: “Gantz is doing politics while the prime minister is making peace.”
The Saudi denial is a signal that Riyadh is not happy with the leaks in Israel about the meeting having taken place, or at least trying to distance themselves from the issue in order to block criticism from the Palestinians or other directions, Walla News reported.
Netanyahu played coy, trying to leave some doubt as to whether or not he flew to Saudi Arabia.
Asked at the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu replied: “I have never addressed these things, and I do not intend to start doing so now. I can only say that throughout my years as prime minister I have spared no effort to expand the circle of peace. I hope this circle will expand.”