Netanyahu and MBS Reportedly Met in Secret in Saudi Arabia

Mike Pompeo also attended the reported meeting, the first of its kind between the leaders of the two countries.
November 23, 2020, 3:34pm
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, arrive for a press conference after their trilateral meeting in Jerusalem on November 18, 2020.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, arrive for a press conference after their trilateral meeting in Jerusalem on November 18, 2020. Photo: ENAHEM KAHANA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in secret with Saudi crown prince and de facto ruler Mohammed Bin Salman in Saudi Arabia this weekend, Israeli media report.

According to Israeli military and diplomatic sources, Netanyahu and the crown prince, known as MBS, met in the planned Saudi tech city of Neom, north-west Saudi Arabia. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, concluding a ten-day trip to the region, was also present, as were Israeli intelligence officials.

The reported meeting, which has not been officially confirmed, would shatter established diplomatic constraints between Israel and Muslim majority countries.

In a tweet, Saudi foreign minister Faisal bin Farhan denied the meeting had taken place, stating that only American and Saudi officials were present.

In the past few months, the UAE, Bahrain, and Sudan have signed hastily-arranged and largely symbolic peace accords with Israel, at the behest of the now-outgoing Trump administration. Normalisation of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, the custodian of Islam's holiest sites, would be a game-changer in the region, not only with regards to containing the perceived threat from Iran but the future of the Islamic world, by deepening Sunni-Shiite sectarian divides in the Middle East. 

Saudi King Salman, MBS's 84-year-old father, had welcomed the recent peace accords, but in congratulatory remarks to US President-elect Joe Biden last week, repeated demands for an independent Palestinian state before jumping on Iran's threats to the region.

"Saudi Arabia affirms the danger of the Iranian regime's regional project," the Saudi monarch said, adding that he hoped that the incoming Biden administration would stick to President Donald Trump’s "maximum pressure" policy to isolate Iran economically, and prevent Tehran from progressing its ballistic missile and nuclear programs. 

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Although always historic rivals, the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia has escalated into a full-blown regional cold war. Saudi Arabia has funded groups in Syria to topple Bashar al-Assad, Tehran’s ally, while Iran has supported Houthi rebels in Yemen, now the target of a Saudi-led military coalition.

Iranian officials have so far dismissed the normalisation efforts between Arab countries and Israel, describing them as only formalising existing ties with Israel. 

Palestinian representatives criticised the reported meeting between Netanyahu and MBS for undermining efforts towards an independent state.

Dr Mohammad Shtayyeh, the Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority, said: "Normalisation with Arab countries as an alternative to peace with the Palestinians is an escape from reality."

And Hamas representative Sami Abu Zahri said, "if true, the information about Netanyahu visiting Saudi Arabia is dangerous."