Netanyahu makes secret Saudi Arabia trip for talks with bin Salman

PM accompanied by Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, met by Pompeo on brief visit to Neom; PM's office declines to comment as Netanyahu aide alludes to peace making effort on social media; defense, foreign ministers not informed of meeting in advance
Itay Blumenthal , Itamar Eichner|
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday made a secret trip to Saudi Arabia for talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Sunday,
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  • The prime minister was accompanied by Mossad Director Yossi Cohen and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also attended the meeting.
    2 View gallery
    בנימין נתניהו, מוחמד בן סלמאן
    בנימין נתניהו, מוחמד בן סלמאן
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
    (Photo: Reuters)
    The Prime Minister's Office declined to comment, but Netanyahu's close aide Topaz Luk appeared to confirm the meeting with a Twitter post that took a swing at Defense Minister Benny Gantz for busying himself with political maneuvers as the prime minister was engaged in peace efforts.
    "Gantz is playing politics while Netanyahu is making peace," Luk wrote in Hebrew.
    Luk was apparently referring to Gantz's announcement on Sunday of a governmental committee to investigate alleged corruption in the purchase submarines from Germany.
    Neither Gantz nor Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi were informed of the trip in advance, despite joining Netanyahu for a memorial service for David Ben-Gurion earlier in the day.
    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.
    The visit to the Neom, a coastal city in the Gulf state, came as the outgoing administration of U.S. President Donald Trump was reported to consider a military strike on Iran, Saudi Arabia's long-time foe.
    Iran had reportedly put its allies in the region on high alert in anticipation of an American strike.
    U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has publicly advocated for a return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which Trump withdrew from in 2018.
    2 View gallery
    Then-Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal (second right) welcomes then-U.S. vice president Joe Biden to Riyadh, October 2011
    Then-Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal (second right) welcomes then-U.S. vice president Joe Biden to Riyadh, October 2011
    Saudi officials welcome then-U.S. vice president Joe Biden to Riyadh in 2011
    (Photo: AFP via Getty Images)
    According to reports in Saudi Arabia, the crown prince has expressed support in establishing relations with Israel but his father King Salman is opposed to such a move.
    According to the Wall Street Journal, bin Salman knew in advance of the UAE's intention to sign its recent normalization agreement with Israel, but did not notify his father of the move for fears the king may try to stop it.
    Trump has said publicly that he believes the Saudis would follow the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan and establish ties with Israel.
    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.
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