Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met clandestinely last Sunday with Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Bin Salman, in an attempt by the United States to normalize ties between Israel and the Arab world.
Netanyahu embarked on a secret flight to the Saudi city of Neom at eight o’clock at night and, according to the Israeli press, he was accompanied by the Mossad director Yossi Cohen. Curiously, the trip was not made on the presidential plane, but on a private one owned by the businessman Udi Angel, partner of the Israeli holding company Xt Group.
That same Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that he would meet with the Crown Prince also in Neom, raising suspicions about whether his actual work would be to moderate the approchement between Tel-Aviv and Riyadh.
According to a Netanyahu’s cabinet source, he did not inform either Defense Minister Bnei Gantz or Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi of his flight to Neom.
Although Israeli officials confirmed that the meeting did occur – including the Israeli defense minister himself who confirmed the rumor at a political rally – Riyadh maintains that Prince Mohammed did not hold any meeting with Netanyahu. According to the Wall Street Journal, the meeting between the Prime Minister and the Prince lasted a couple of hours, but no substantial agreement was reached.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend
The secret meeting between the two leaders occurs under a policy of appeasing relations between Israel and the Arab and Muslim world. The Hebrew country in 2020 established democratic ties with three Muslim states: Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Sudan.
Although being rivals, Israel and Saudi Arabia are united by a common enemy: Iran. For decades Saudi Arabia has competed with Shiite Iran for dominance over the Middle East. Riyadh fears that with Joe Biden’s arrival to the Presidency, the White House will resume the nuclear deal reached with Iran by the Obama administration.
The possibility of looser policy on Iran’s nuclear program worries both states, whose approach is due more to a common threat than a gesture of cordiality. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency in its latest report, Iran has breached various commitments from the nuclear deal signed with the Obama administration, and from which the Trump administration withdrew in 2018.
The King of Saudi Arabia, Salmán bin Abdulazis, last week called for an international stance “that guarantees a radical solution that will end Iran’s efforts to rally weapons of mass destruction and develop a ballistic missile program.”
For Israel, Iran represents a national security threat, apart from its nuclear program, Tehran is known for financing terrorist groups opposed to Israel’s existence such as Hamas and Hezbollah. A stronger stance against Iran by the two rivals would represent a challenge for the regime of Hasan Rohani, who’s expecting a more lenient U.S. with Joe Biden as president.