JERUSALEM: A member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet and Likud party confirmed media reports on Monday 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 Netanyahu met the Saudi crown prince and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Netanyahu’s office and the US Embassy in Jerusalem had no immediate comment on the reports.
Saudi state media made no mention of any visit by Netanyahu, and the Saudi government’s media office did not immediately respond to Reuters queries.
FLIGHT TRACKING DATA
Netanyahu was joined on his Saudi trip by Mossad director Joseph (Yossi) Cohen, who 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.
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 bin Salman and Pompeo had a scheduled meeting on Sunday.
More publicly closing ranks with the Saudi crown prince could help the conservative 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,” Netanyahu spokesman Topaz Luk tweeted.
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”.