Saudi Arabia is denying reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secretly met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Gulf kingdom on Sunday.
“I have seen press reports about a purported meeting between HRH the Crown Prince and Israeli officials during the recent visit by @SecPompeo,” Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, tweeted on Monday.
“No such meeting occurred. The only officials present were American and Saudi,” Farhan tweeted.
But according to Israeli news outlets, Netanyahu and Mossad spy chief Yossi Cohen departed from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International airport on Sunday in a private jet headed for Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast, where the crown prince was meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the city of Neom.
Israel Education Minister Yoav Galant confirmed the news, telling Army Radio the apparent trip was an “amazing achievement.”
An unnamed Saudi adviser told The Wall Street Journal that Israeli officials attended talks arranged by Pompeo, during which the 35-year-old prince and Netanyahu discussed Iran and a possible normalization of ties.
For his part, Netanyahu didn’t deny the trip took place when asked about it Monday. The Israeli premier said only that he was “working on broadening the circle of peace.”
Pompeo is in Saudi Arabia for the final leg of a Middle East tour that also took him to Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Qatar. According to a State Department readout, Pompeo and Prince Mohammed on Monday discussed the need for Gulf unity, the conflict and Yemen and the importance of human rights reform. No mention was made of Netanyahu.
President Donald Trump has said Saudi Arabia would be among “five or six” countries to follow the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which in September signed US-brokered agreements normalizing ties with the Jewish state. In a positive sign, the kingdom announced in September it would open its airspace to commercial flights from Israel.
But last month, Prince Faisal downplayed reports that Saudi Arabia would be next to recognize Israel. During a virtual event hosted by the Washington Institute, Riyadh’s top diplomat said Palestinians and Israelis at the negotiating table should be the priority of peace efforts before “eventual normalization” with Israel.