In apparent first, Israeli journalist visits Muslim holy city of Mecca

Channel 13’s Gil Tamary broadcasts himself driving into the Saudi city, where non-Muslims are banned

Channel 13's Gil Tamary in Mecca, Saudi Arabia with the Grand Mosque in the background from footage broadcast on July 18, 2022. (Screen capture/ Channel 13)
Channel 13's Gil Tamary in Mecca, Saudi Arabia with the Grand Mosque in the background from footage broadcast on July 18, 2022. (Screen capture/ Channel 13)

An Israeli television reporter recently visited the holy Muslim city of Mecca, his network reported Monday, days after US President Joe Biden wrapped up a trip that included a direct flight from Israel to the coastal Saudi city of Jeddah.

Channel 13’s world news editor, Gil Tamary, broadcast footage of himself driving into the city, where the Saudi government bans non-Muslims from entering.

Tamary showed himself driving under the iconic gates of the city and past the Grand Mosque that houses the cube-shaped Kaaba, the holiest shrine in Islam.

The face of his driver was blurred.

In an image shared by the network, Tamary was also seen on Mount Arafat, about 15 kilometers (nine miles) from Mecca, where Muslims gather during the hajj pilgrimage.

Several Israeli journalists traveled to Saudi Arabia last week to cover the visit of US President Joe Biden.

Before Biden’s visit, Channel 13’s military correspondent, Alon Ben David, and the Israel Hayom daily’s Yoav Limor both traveled to the Gulf nation, amid speculation that Israel and Saudi Arabia were taking steps toward normalization.

While Israelis have visited Saudi Arabia before, most have been Mossad chiefs or senior political figures, along with Muslims making the hajj pilgrimage. Recently, an Israel business delegation reportedly visited.

Officially, Saudi Arabia rejected recognition of the Jewish state in 1948 and maintained that policy in part due to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That, however, started to change in recent years, with behind-the-scenes attempts to promote diplomatic and security cooperation in the face of the Iranian threat.

On Friday, Saudi Arabia announced it was opening its airspace to all civilian overflights, in a move that had widely been regarded as part of US-brokered efforts to advance normalization steps between Jerusalem and Riyadh. The announcement happened while Biden was visiting Israel, hours before he traveled to Jeddah and met Saudi leaders.

However, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said Saturday that Riyadh’s decision to open its airspace had “nothing to do with diplomatic ties with Israel” and was “not in any way a precursor to any further steps” toward normalization.

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