Israel PM Netanyahu secretly met with Saudi crown prince: reports

The Saudi foreign minister denied such a meeting taking place

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled overnight by a civilian jet to Saudi Arabia reportedly for a secret meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which would mark the first known encounter between senior Israeli and Saudi officials.

A Gulfstream IV private jet left Tel Aviv on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. local time and flew directly to the seaside resort town of Neom, according to FlightRadar.

Netanyahu headed back to Israel after two hours on the ground, arriving in Tel Aviv half past midnight.

In this Nov. 9, 2020, file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits a new coronavirus lab at Ben-Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, Israel. (Ohad Zwigenberg/Pool Photo via AP, File)

In this Nov. 9, 2020, file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits a new coronavirus lab at Ben-Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, Israel. (Ohad Zwigenberg/Pool Photo via AP, File)

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Israeli chief spy and the head of Mossad, Yossi Cohen, joined the meeting, which was also attended by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The prime minister's office declined to confirm the meeting took place, however, one of Netanyahu’s media advisers, Topaz Luk, tweeted after the news of the visit broke, “While Benny Gantz is dealing with politics the Prime Minister is making peace."

Elsewhere, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister took to Twitter Monday morning to deny any such meeting taking place.

“I have seen press reports about a purported meeting between HRH the Crown Prince and Israeli officials during the recent visit by @SecPompeo,” Faisal bin Farhan tweeted. “No such meeting occurred. The only officials present were American and Saudi.”

Netanyahu, speaking to members of his party in Knesset on Monday, neither confirmed nor denied the trip.

"My friends, I never reacted to these things along the years as prime minister and I will not do so now. All the years as prime minister I did all I can to strengthen Israel and enlarge the circle of peace," he said. "I hope this circle gets wider."

State Department deputy spokesman Cale Brown declined to comment when asked about Netanyahu taking part in Pompeo’s meeting with Prince Mohammed.

Israeli press reported that Netanyahu did not reveal his trip to Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz or the foreign minister, Gaby Ashkenazi.

This is not the first time the two officials learned of meetings from the media – the last time was the announcement of the Normalization of diplomatic ties with the United Arab Emirates.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman smiles as he attends the Future Investment Initiative summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 2018. (AP)

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman smiles as he attends the Future Investment Initiative summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 2018. (AP)

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Pompeo traveled to Saudi Arabia on Sunday to meet with the crown prince. He traveled with an American press pool on his trip throughout the Mideast but left them at the Neom airport when he went into this meeting. The pair reportedly discussed efforts to counter threats from Iran.

Israel has already normalized ties with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Sudan, however, Saudi Arabia so far has remained out of reach.

At the opening of the virtual meeting of the G20 annual summit on Saturday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan said that while Saudi Arabia supports the normalization of relations with Israel, a permanent peace agreement with the Palestinians should be reached amid changes in the region.

King Salman long has supported the Palestinians in their effort to secure an independent state. However, analysts and insiders suggest his 35-year-old son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, likely is more open to the idea of normalizing relations without major progress in the moribund peace process.

The kingdom approved the use of Saudi airspace for Israeli flights to the UAE, a decision announced the day after Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, met with Prince Mohammed in Riyadh. Bahrain normalizing ties also suggest at least a Saudi acquiescence to the idea, as the island kingdom relies on Riyadh.

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Israel has long had clandestine ties to Gulf Arab states that have strengthened in recent years as they have confronted a shared threat in Iran.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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