Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Saudi Arabia for a late night Sunday rendezvous with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the northern city of Neom, journalists tracking flight data say.
His private plane, which stayed on the ground in the desert kingdom’s remote north-west for two hours, is the same one Netanyahu used for several covert trips to Russia, according to reporters at Ha’aretz.
Netanyahu reportedly met the de facto Saudi leader with Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, but without the knowledge of Israel’s defence or foreign ministers.
It comes at an especially sensitive time for the region, after Donald Trump’s administration was voted out earlier this month. US support is considered necessary for any Israeli strike against Iran.
The New York Times reported that Trump last week sounded out his generals on a possible Iran strike in the dying days of his presidency, before Joe Biden gets sworn in. He is reported to have been talked out of it.
Israel and Saudi Arabia are both opposed to the nuclear deal negotiated between Iran, the US, the UK, Russia, China, France, and Germany in 2015. It required Iran to dismantle its atomic infrastructure and give international inspectors access to its sites in return for sanctions relief. Trump withdrew the US in 2018.
Netanyahu and Cohen are believed to have met both Mohammed bin Salman and the hawkish US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, leaving Neom just after midnight, in a meeting the Saudis deny.
The four men likely discussed an Israeli-Saudi normalisation agreement like that signed in September between Israel, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates.
Analysts say such an agreement, if signed before 20 January, would deprive the Biden administration of a powerful carrot, to incentivise the Israelis towards the negotiating table with the Palestinians.
Meanwhile foreign ministers from Germany, France and the UK discuss their joint approach to the Biden administration on reviving the Iranian nuclear deal, which they have kept alive despite Trump’s sanctions.
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