SRINAGAR: In a report that has gone viral across the Muslim world suggest that the Israeli Prime Minister and the Mossad Chief flew to a Saudi Arabian city on Sunday for a meeting with the visiting US Secretary of State and Saudi heir-apparent, Mohammad Bin Salam. Riyadh and Washington have denied reports and Tel Aviv is maintaining calm over the newsbreak by the Israeli official media.

US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo who will be demitting office by late January had already visited Tel Aviv and landed in a settlement that Israel had snatched away from the Palestinians. It was after this visited that the Saudi meeting took place.

The development was confirmed by a member of Netanyahu’s cabinet and Likud party sources terming it an “amazing achievement”.

“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 when asked about the visit, al-Jazeera reported on its website.

No official in Israel has denied the development so far. The newsbreak came from Israel’s Kan public radio and Army Radio that said Mossad chief Yossi Cohen accompanied Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the meeting reportedly held in Neom on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast. Hebrew language media also carried detailed reports about the secret meeting in the Saudi coastal town that is being developed as a technology megacity with an investment of US $500 billion.

However, Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, has denied the reports. “I have seen press reports about a purported meeting between HRH the Crown Prince and Israeli officials during the recent visit by @SecPompeo,” Prince Faisal bin Farhan said in a tweet. “No such meeting occurred. The only officials present were American and Saudi.”

As Riyadh and Washington denied the secret meeting, Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz published the aviation tracking data that showed a private jet had made a brief trip from Tel Aviv to Neom, where MBS and Pompeo had a scheduled meeting on Sunday.

“A Gulfstream IV private jet took off just after 1740 GMT from Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, according to data from website,” global news-gatherer AFP reported. “The flight travelled south along the eastern edge of the Sinai Peninsula before turning toward Neom and landing just after 1830 GMT, according to the data. The flight took off from Neom around 2150 GMT and followed the same route back to Tel Aviv.”

The jet, Haaretz reported, is the same private plane Netanyahu took several times for his visits to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Pompeo visit to the region, commentators insist was aimed at getting support for the so-called Abraham Accords under which the Muslim neighbours are being encouraged by the outgoing Trump administration to normalize relations with Israel. It was under this accord that two Saudi allies Bahrain and UAE have already normalized the relations. In fact, on US intervention, Saudi Arabia has permitted Israeli aircraft to use Saudi airspace for reaching Dubai.

Riyadh, however, has denied the reports. Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said on Saturday that Saudi Arabia said 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”. This was insisted even after Pompeo requested Saudi Arabia to normalize relations with Isreal. “We hope Saudi Arabia will consider normalising its relationships as well, and we want to thank them for the assistance they’ve had in the success of the Abraham Accords so far,” Pompeo was quoted saying.

“The reports had set off a flurry of commentary on what would have been a major step forward in the Arab world’s engagement with Israel,” AFP reported. “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, is likely more open to the idea of normalising relations without major progress in the moribund peace process.”

The kingdom’s official position, Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported is that a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a precondition for normalising ties, a stance that carries great weight in the Arab world given its status as custodian of Islam’s holy sites. “It has been squeamish about going public with any rapprochement, for fear of a backlash including within the highly conservative nation,” it reported. “Nevertheless, relations have warmed regardless in a shift spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed, the ambitious young de facto leader.”


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