None ever, then 2 in a week: 2nd Israeli minister makes official visit to Saudi Arabia

Shlomo Karhi heads 14-strong delegation to Universal Postal Union congress; group includes MK David Bitan, who hails ‘small steps’ toward peace with Saudis

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi (left) and Knesset Economy Committee chairman David Bitan arrive in Saudi Arabia on October 2, 2023. (Communications Ministry)
Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi (left) and Knesset Economy Committee chairman David Bitan arrive in Saudi Arabia on October 2, 2023. (Communications Ministry)

In the second-ever official visit by an Israeli minister to Saudi Arabia, Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi landed in Riyadh on Monday evening, leading an Israeli delegation to the Universal Postal Union’s 2023 Extraordinary Congress.

Karhi, who was accompanied by Knesset Economy Committee chairman David Bitan, made the trip less than a week after his Likud colleague Haim Katz became the first Israeli minister to officially visit.

The visits come as Israel and Saudi Arabia edge closer to an agreement to normalize relations in a US-brokered deal that, if finalized, would mark a historic breakthrough for Israel’s standing in the Middle East.

Karhi and Bitan’s delegation has a total of 14 members, including representatives of the Communications Ministry, the postal service and the Foreign Ministry, according to Karhi’s office.

Karhi will deliver a speech at the conference and meet with US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Michael Ratney, along with other global figures including Turkey’s communications minister, his office said.

Karhi also received an invitation to visit the Sukkah of Mohammed Saud, a prominent Israel supporter in Riyadh, Karhi’s office said.

“We’re here during the Sukkot holiday, at an international conference. We’ll meet with representatives from around the world, and will bring the peace between the State of Israel and Saudi Arabia closer,” Karhi said in a video statement after landing in Riyadh.

“Everything starts with small steps, so this is the beginning, and we’ll see in the future how things develop for the benefit of the State of Israel and peace in the Middle East,” Bitan said.

Karhi and Bitan are both members of Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party.

The conference will take place in the Ritz-Carlton hotel in the Saudi capital Riyadh and will end on Thursday.

The Universal Postal Union is a United Nations agency that coordinates international postal policies. This year’s conference will focus on issues including proposals related to climate change and the future of postal financial services, the union said.

This year’s Extraordinary Congress is only the fourth in the union’s nearly 150-year history, with the last taking place in 2019 in Switzerland.

Tourism Minister Haim Katz in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on September 27, 2023, on the first such high-level public mission to the oil-rich kingdom. (Israeli Tourism Ministry via AFP)

Last Tuesday, Tourism Minister Katz visited Saudi Arabia for a United Nations World Tourism Organization conference, becoming the first minister to lead an official delegation to the country.

Earlier last month, an Israeli delegation of nine staffers flew to Saudi Arabia as observers for the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting. The delegation was led by the head of Israel’s Antiquities Authority and included diplomats, according to an Israeli official.

The trips come as US President Joe Biden’s administration is actively engaging Riyadh and Jerusalem to try to broker a normalization deal between the two countries. As part of the framework, Saudi Arabia is also asking the US for a major mutual defense pact and significant arms deals, as well as Israeli concessions to the Palestinians.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Friday that a “basic framework” on a deal has been reached, but stressed the “complex” arrangement would require “compromise” from all sides.

Speaking last month at the UN General Assembly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was “on the cusp” of a historic deal with Saudi Arabia.

Those comments were made days after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, told Fox News that “every day we get closer” to his country normalizing ties with Israel, while clarifying that the Palestinian issue is still a “very important” component of the process and declaring that Saudi Arabia would have to obtain a nuclear weapon if Iran did so.

A Sunday report said the Israel Defense Forces have begun studying the ramifications for Israel on a military level, should a normalization deal with Saudi Arabia go through.

The study will look at the possible consequences of the deal, including the options for partnerships and cooperation, along with risks involved for Israel’s security, the Walla news site reported.

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