Israeli and Saudi officials on Monday confirmed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Saudi Arabia a day earlier for talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in an apparent show of unity by the two Iranian foes before U.S. President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January.
The talks, which had been meticulously planned, did not end in an agreement to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia although such a deal might still materialize in the future, sources said.
The revelation of meeting appears to be a message sent by Israel and Saudi Arabia to Iran, the rest of the Middle East and Biden that the Saudis are interested in moving towards normalized ties with Israel.
The encounter also appeared to let Biden know that even if his administration reverses predecessor Donald Trump's hardline policies on Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia are in lockstep about the threat posed by the Islamic Republic.
The president-elect has publicly advocated for a return to the 2015 nuclear deal that imposed limits on Iran's atomic ambitions and from which Trump withdrew in 2018.
Indeed, senior Israeli sources told Ynet that bin Salman had no objection to the meeting being disclosed and Saudi officials also Monday confirmed the meeting to the Wall Street Journal.
Nonetheless, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud on Monday afternoon denied the encounter between Netanyahu and bin Salman took place, writing on Twitter that "No such meeting occurred."
Even so, Education Minister Yoav Galant on Monday called the talks an "amazing achievement."
"The very fact the meeting happened, and was announced publicly, even if semi-officially for now, is a matter of great importance," Galant said.
Netanyahu was accompanied by Mossad Director Yossi Cohen, while U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who arrived in Saudi Arabia on same day, also attended the meeting.
Netanyahu remained on Saudi soil for at least four hours. He and Cohen left Ben-Gurion International Airport at 7:50pm on a private jet and landed in Saudi Arabia at 8:30pm, returning to Israel after midnight.
A senior Saudi source told the WSJ on Monday that the hours-long meeting covered topics such as Iran and the potential for normalized ties between Jerusalem and Riyadh, but no substantive agreements were reached.
The trip also highlighted a rift between Netanyahu and his coalition partners in the Blue & White party. Neither Defense Minister Benny Gantz nor Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi of Blue & White were informed of the trip in advance, despite joining Netanyahu for a memorial service for David Ben-Gurion earlier Sunday.
Science Minister Izhar Shay of Blue & White on Monday rapped Netanyahu for concealing the trip from Gantz and Ashkenazi, saying the prime minister should have shared the achievement with his foreign and defense ministers.
Long-standing Saudi allies Bahrain and the UAE earlier this year signed their own normalization agreements with Israel, apparently with Riyadh's tacit support.
According to reports in Saudi Arabia, the crown prince has expressed support in also establishing relations with Israel but his father King Salman is opposed to such a move.
Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, who was likely present during Netanyahu's meeting with bin Salman, said Saturday that the kingdom supports full normalization with Israel, but reiterated Riyadh's long-held stance that such an agreement could only come after the creation of a Palestinian state.