Aviation tracking data showed a private jet making a brief trip from Tel Aviv to Neom; No official confirmation from any side
NEW DELHI — Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paid a secret visit to Saudi Arabia on Sunday and held talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Israeli media broke the news on Monday. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was also present in the meeting, reports say.
The Israeli prime minister’s office did not respond to requests for comment, says AP. But a member of Netanyahu’s cabinet and Likud party on Monday confirmed reports that the Israeli leader had held a meeting in Saudi Arabia, calling it an “amazing achievement”, reports Aljazeera.
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 the visiting US Secretary of State.
US embassy to Israel had no immediate comment. There has also been no comment from the Saudi government.
According to Israeli daily Haaretz, aviation tracking data showed that a private jet had made a brief trip from Tel Aviv to Neom, where MBS and Pompeo had a scheduled meeting on Sunday.
Flight-tracking websites showed that the plane was grounded for approximately two hours before it returned to Israel about half an hour past midnight. The jet, according to Haaretz, is the same private plane Netanyahu took several times for his visits to Russian President Vladimir Putin, says Aljazeera.
“The very fact the meeting happened, and was outed publicly, even if half-officially right now, is a matter of great importance,” Israel’s Education Minister Yoav Gallant told Army Radio when asked about the visit.
Sunday’s meeting marked the first known encounter between senior Israeli and Saudi officials, amid a US push to convince Arab and Muslim countries to normalise ties with Israel.
In recent months, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan have established normal relations with Israel. Saudi Arabia has so far declined to normalise ties with Israel, saying Palestinian statehood goals should be addressed first. But the Saudis have allowed Israeli airliners to overfly their territory to newly available Gulf destinations and to Asia.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Hamas group requested Saudi Arabia to clarify the reports.
“The information about Netanyahu’s visit to Saudi Arabia is serious – if correct,” Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Hamas, said on Twitter.
He added: “We call on Saudi Arabia to clarify what happened, as this represents an insult to the nation and a waste of Palestinian rights.”