Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled secretly Sunday to the city of Neom on the Saudi Red Sea coast to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo, according to what Israeli sources told me.
why does it matter: There has been a secret relationship between Israel and Saudi Arabia for many years, but this is the first time that such a high-level meeting has been reported – although neither side has officially confirmed this.
News Lead: Data from online flight radar sites showed that a private plane was leaving Tel Aviv on Sunday evening and flying directly to Neom. The plane returned to Israel after five hours on the ground.
- The unusual trip coincided with a planned meeting between Pompeo and the Saudi crown prince, which was published on the Secretary of State’s agenda.
From the note: The Saudis, Israelis and Americans knew that the flight from Tel Aviv to NEOM would be spotted by aircraft controllers and likely to lead to the meeting being exposed.
- According to Israeli sources, Netanyahu did not inform his coalition partners, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, in advance of the visit. Both Gantz and Ashkenazi are Netanyahu’s political rivals.
what are they saying: Israeli sources told me that the director of the Mossad, Yossi Cohen, had joined Netanyahu on his trip to Saudi Arabia.
- Netanyahu’s office did not comment on this story, but did not deny it either.
- After the news of the visit spread in the Israeli press, an advisor to Netanyahu on social media Topaz Locke tweeted: “While Benny Gantz deals with politics, the prime minister is making peace.”
behind the scenes: The Israeli cabinet was supposed to meet on the Coronavirus on Sunday evening. On Saturday night, Netanyahu’s office announced the postponement of the meeting because more work had to be done in advance.
- This was a cover story. An Israeli source told me that the real reason for the postponement of the cabinet meeting was Netanyahu’s visit to Saudi Arabia.
The Big Picture: Israel and Saudi Arabia are extremely concerned about the Biden administration’s upcoming statements Goal back For the 2015 Iran Agreement.
- Hours before his departure to Saudi Arabia on Sunday, Netanyahu said in a speech: “Thanks to our resolute stance against Iran’s nuclear armament and our opposition to the nuclear agreement with Iran, many Arab countries have radically changed their approach to Israel.”