Netanyahu met Saudi crown prince, Pompeo in Saudi Arabia: Israeli Cabinet minister

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JERUSALEM (REUTERS) – A member of Mr Benjamin Netanyahu’s Cabinet and Likud party confirmed media reports on Monday (Nov 23) that the Israeli prime minister had held a meeting in Saudi Arabia, calling it an “amazing achievement”.

“The very fact the meeting happened, and was outed publicly, even if half-officially right now, is a matter of great importance,” Education Minister Yoav Gallant told Army Radio when asked about Sunday’s visit, in which Israeli media said Mr Netanyahu met the Saudi crown prince and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Army Radio and Kan public radio had reported earlier on Monday that Mr Netanyahu secretly flew to Saudi Arabia on Sunday to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and visiting Mr Pompeo.

Based on what Minister Gallant has said, it is the first publicly acknowledged trip by an Israeli leader to ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, which has traditionally championed the Palestinian cause and shunned all official contacts with Israel.

However, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister later denied reports the meeting took place. 

“I have seen press reports about a purported meeting between HRH the Crown Prince and Israeli officials during the recent visit by @SecPompeo. No such meeting occurred. The only officials present were American and  Saudi,” Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud tweeted.

As US President Donald Trump’s term winds down, Mr Pompeo has been trying to coax the Gulf powerhouse to follow its neighbours, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, in establishing formal relations with Israel.

The rapprochement between Israel and the Gulf states is built largely on shared concerns about Iran – and, potentially, about whether US President-elect Joe Biden will review Washington’s regional policies.

Mr Netanyahu was joined on his Saudi trip by Mr Joseph (Yossi) Cohen, director of Israel’s national intelligence agency Mossad. He has spearheaded discreet diplomatic outreach to Gulf Arab states, said the Israeli media reports, quoting unidentified Israeli officials.

Riyadh has so far declined to normalise ties with Israel.

But since August it has allowed Israeli airliners to overfly Saudi territory to newly available Gulf destinations and Asia.

Mr Avi Scharf of Israel’s Haaretz newspaper published aviation tracking data showing that a business jet had made a brief trip from Tel Aviv to Neom, on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast, where Prince Mohammed and Mr Pompeo had a scheduled meeting on Sunday.

More publicly closing ranks with the Saudi crown prince could help the conservative Mr Netanyahu burnish his statesman credentials as he faces domestic challenges, including a trial on corruption charges, which he denies, and a feud with centrist coalition partner Benny Gantz, Israel’s defence minister.

“Gantz does politics while the prime minister makes peace,” Mr Netanyahu’s spokesman Topaz Luk said on Twitter.

Asked on Saturday whether Riyadh had changed its position on Israel, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said the kingdom had supported complete normalisation of ties “for a long time”, but on condition that Israel and the Palestinians reach “a permanent and full peace deal”.

A Global Asset Management Seoul Korea Magazine

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