Analysis: Netanyahu and bin Salman’s covert meeting Monday was a major stepping stone on the path to normalization, with both in trepidation of Joe Biden’s incoming administration in addition to their shared fear of a nuclear-armed Iran
The flags of Israel and Saudi Arabia
Alex Fishman – https://www.ynetnews.com
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud on Monday denied that there had been a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Red Sea city of Neom.
“No such meeting occurred. The only officials present were American and Saudi,” he said on Twitter.
This does not mean that the meeting between the prime minister and the crown prince did not happen, but it does mean that the Saudis were deeply embarrassed by the reports.
It can be assumed that an Israeli official broke an agreement for secrecy regarding the meeting.
Even so, this is a major stepping stone on the path towards Israeli-Saudi normalization.
Israel’s political situation is so dire and rotten that its leaders are willing to score an internal political victory (and get one over on Defense Minister Benny Gantz and his submarine affair probe) at the risk of scuppering a crucial diplomatic breakthrough.
Israelis and Saudis have been meeting in secret for years now, including political, diplomatic and intelligence officials from both sides.
There was even a rumor that former prime minister Ehud Olmert met with a senior member of the Saudi royal family in Jordan, but no prior meeting between an Israeli premier and the Saudi crown prince in the Gulf kingdom is known.
Such an historic meeting could have only taken place amid the whirlwind of events gripping the Arabian Peninsula over the past year, which resulted in Israel’s normalization agreements with the UAE and Bahrain.
Bin Salman and his father the king are divided over formalizing ties with Israel.
A covert meeting with Netanyahu in Saudi Arabia was probably the best the crown prince could get from his father, admittedly an achievement unto itself.
Both Israel and Saudi Arabia are preparing for a Biden White House. If Jerusalem is worried, Riyadh is scared to death. Israel does not understand how hostile the U.S. Congress is to Saudi policies in general and the crown prince in particular.
Bin Salman is certain that the Democrats are going to give him hell over the kingdom’s human rights abuses, civilian deaths in Yemen, the assassination of Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the continued feud with Qatar and many other issues.
The crown prince is convinced the CIA has him in its sights and is ready to put him down, at least politically, and pave the way for the return of their favorite Saudi prince Muhammad bin Nayef, whom he stripped of his titles and placed under house arrest for alleged treason in June 2017.
During his campaign, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden talked of a “renewed assessment” when it comes to American-Saudi relations, hinting that his administration would settle scores with Riyadh over its conduct in the past four years during the presidency of Donald Trump.
Biden’s pick for secretary of state Antony Blinken, who this week tweeted his concern at the arrest of three human rights activists in Egypt, already has his eyes on the Gulf kingdom.
Just as the Saudis do, Israel is pleading with the upcoming administration to be involved in and influence its expected negotiations with Iran.
Cooperation between Jerusalem and Riyadh on Iran – a common foe – should be taken very seriously by Biden.
It is very probable that outgoing President Donald Trump’s desire to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities, as reported last week by the New York Times, was raised by the third person at the covert meeting in Saudi Arabia on Monday, departing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has vigorously pushed for normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
But with all due respect to the Iranian threat and normalization prospects, it is doubtful the meeting would have taken place if the Saudis did not need an ally against what it perceives will be a hostile White House.
All we can do now is hope that the leaks did not jeopardize any headway already made on Israeli-Saudi ties.