Saudi Arabia denies reports of Netanyahu meeting MBS in the kingdom

Published November 23, 2020
This combination file photo shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. — Reuters
This combination file photo shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. — Reuters

Saudi Arabia on Monday denied Israeli media reports of landmark talks between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“I have seen press reports about a purported meeting between HRH the Crown Prince and Israeli officials during the recent visit by @SecPompeo,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said in a tweet.

“No such meeting occurred. The only officials present were American and Saudi.”

Israeli public broadcaster Kan and other outlets had reported that the meeting took place on Sunday, weeks after the Jewish state reached historic deals to normalise ties with two Saudi allies, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Those deals, known as the Abraham Accords, were brokered by the administration of US President Donald Trump, who leaves office in less than two months.

Hebrew-language media cited an unnamed Israeli official as saying that Netanyahu and Yossi Cohen, head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, flew to the Saudi city of Neom on Sunday, where they met with the crown prince. The prince was there for talks with Pompeo, who was in Israel last week before travelling onto Saudi during a regional tour.

A Gulfstream IV private jet took off just after 1740 GMT from Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, according to data from website FlightRadar24.com. The flight travelled south along the eastern edge of the Sinai Peninsula before turning toward Neom and landing just after 1830 GMT, according to the data. The flight took off from Neom around 2150 GMT and followed the same route back to Tel Aviv.

Kan's diplomatic correspondent said that Pompeo was also at the reported talks between Saudi and Israeli officials.

Netanyahu's office was not immediately available to comment on the reports, and the US State Department declined to weigh in on the issue.

The reports had set off a flurry of commentary on what would have been a major step forward in the Arab world's engagement with Israel.

King Salman long has supported the Palestinians in their effort to secure an independent state. However, analysts and insiders suggest his 35-year-old son, Crown Prince Mohammed, is likely more open to the idea of normalising relations without major progress in the moribund peace process.

The kingdom approved the use of Saudi airspace for Israeli flights to the UAE, a decision announced the day after Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, met with Prince Mohammed in Riyadh. Bahrain normalising ties also suggests at least a Saudi acquiescence to the idea, as the island kingdom relies on Riyadh.

Israel has long had clandestine ties to Gulf Arab states that have strengthened in recent years as they have confronted a shared threat in Iran.

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