According to Israeli and American media outlets, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has allegedly paid an unannounced visit to Saudi Arabia, where he met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The alleged visit took place at the same time as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to the kingdom. Netanyahu’s office did not confirm nor deny the reports.
Reportedly, Netanyahu, along with Director of Mossad (Israel’s national intelligence agency) Yossi Cohen visited the Saudi city of Neom located just 75 km away from the Israeli Red Sea coastal resort of Eilat on Sunday. There, they held a meeting with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. All leading Israeli media published this report on Monday citing their sources, along with the US-based Wall Street Journal.
According to the sources, Netanyahu and bin Salman discussed a number of issues, including normalizing relations between Israel and the Arab states, as well as the topic of Iran, however, no major agreements were reached.
“If Netanyahu’s trip to Saudi Arabia did take place, its goal may have been to consolidate positions in the run-up to the Biden presidency. It is important both for the Israelis and the Saudis that Washington maintain its tough position on Tehran, namely on its nuclear program,” said Ksenia Svetlova, an expert at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, in an interview with Kommersant. When asked about a possible Israeli strike against Iran, she noted that the country’s forces do not consider it an effective way of confronting Tehran so far, since it won’t lead to a regime change. It might just slow down the development of the Iranian nuclear program for a while and give Tehran an excuse for a retaliatory attack on Israel.
“Trump’s exit deals a serious blow to the Persian Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia and Israel, too. The Saudis hope that the Biden administration will not change its policy on Tehran, and stress that they hope to continue their partnership with Washington by various means,” Professor at Moscow State University’s School of World Politics Grigory Kosach told Kommersant. “As for the normalization of relations with Israel, this process will slow after Donald Trump leaves. So far, it is not in Riyadh’s interest to make its contacts with the Israelis public. Meanwhile, Benjamin Netanyahu needs to score domestic points.”