Mystery surrounds a secret night-time flight and alleged meeting between the Saudi crown prince and the Israeli prime minister.
According to Israeli media reports, a private jet known to be used by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was tracked flying from Tel Aviv to the Saudi city of Neom on Sunday night.
The plane was on the ground for two hours before returning to Tel Aviv just after midnight.
Both Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are known to have been in Neom on Sunday. Saudi Arabia held the G20 summit at the weekend.
The reports, not denied by Mr Netanyahu’s office, suggested that he was on board the plane with Yossi Cohen, head of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad.
The apparent meeting follows two historic normalisation deals between the Jewish State and gulf Arab nations.
But within hours of the flight details emerging, the Saudi foreign minister denied it had taken place.
Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud tweeted: “I have seen press reports about a purported meeting between HRH the Crown Prince and Israeli officials during the recent visit by @SecPompeo. No such meeting occurred. The only officials present were American and Saudi.”
Yet a member of the Israeli cabinet appeared to confirm the meeting.
“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.
Israeli newspaper Haaretz and others had reported that the meeting was kept so secret that neither defence minister and alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz nor Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi were told about the trip.
There is huge diplomatic sensitivity to any contact between Saudi Arabia and Israel who have been foes since the Jewish State’s creation in 1948.
Groundbreaking diplomatic normalisation deals which Israel recently struck with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain were not replicated by Saudi Arabia but the kingdom didn’t condemn them either.
The Israeli deals with the UAE and Bahrain were the culmination of years of quiet diplomacy, but were formally announced with fanfare at a ceremony on the lawn of the White House in Washington last month.
US President Donald Trump took personal credit for the deals.
In striking them, the gulf countries ditched the convention that no Arab state would recognise Israel unless and until a viable Palestinian state could be created as part of a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal.
Speaking on the sidelines of the G20 at the weekend, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud appeared to be holding to the convention.
He said the kingdom “has supported normalisation with Israel for a long time, but one very important thing must happen first: a permanent and full peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians”.
It is not clear if the meeting between the crown prince and the Israeli prime minister constitutes a change in the Saudi position, but it does represent another tremor in a seismic geopolitical shift for the region.
It sends a message to Iran that there is a growing alliance between Israel and its one-time gulf foes – an alliance which represents a strengthened axis against Iran.
For the Palestinians, it raises more questions about their position and the future of their quest for a viable state existing alongside Israel.
Incoming US president Joe Biden is not likely to oppose the new Israeli-Gulf deals.
However his regional position suggests he will be more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and will want to apply the right leverage to ensure the quest for a viable Palestinian state is not lost.
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