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Mossad chief indicates Saudis could join nations normalizing ties with Israel

Yossi Cohen refuses to say whether he’s met Riyadh’s de facto leader; explains deals with Gulf states required building trust ‘that we’re here for them and they’re here for us’

Head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen speaks at a Cyber conference at Tel Aviv University on June 24, 2019. (Flash90)
Head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen speaks at a Cyber conference at Tel Aviv University on June 24, 2019. (Flash90)

The head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency indicated in an interview aired Wednesday that Saudi Arabia could be in line to normalize ties with Israel following landmark peace agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, while refusing to comment on whether he had met with the rulers of the Arab kingdom.

Yossi Cohen has been cited as a key figure in the US-sponsored Abraham Accords with Abu Dhabi and Manama, signed at a festive White House ceremony Tuesday. Cohen reportedly shuttled to Gulf states on numerous secretive journeys in recent years to build closer clandestine ties with Arab nations.

Cohen told Channel 12 news the accords signified “the breaking of a glass ceiling that existed in our relations with Arab states.”

He said the move to formalize ties was achieved through long years of “contacts managed very very delicately.”

Cohen said that regional concerns over Iran’s “imperialist” aspirations played a key role in the Gulf nations’ decisions to break with decades of Arab policy not to recognize the Jewish state so long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains unresolved.

“You must build a system of mutual trust between us and them… trust, that we are here for them and they are here for us, together against all these threats,” he said.

Asked why he thought Israel’s new allies had decided to put the Palestinian issue aside in favor of open relations, Cohen said: “Every country needs to choose its immediate interests versus longer-term interests, and here I believe that both Bahrain and Abu Dhabi, the UAE in general, chose their longer-term interests.”

US President Donald Trump, center, with from left, Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump, and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump have both indicated several more countries could be in line to establish open relations in the near future.

Questioned as to whether major regional power Saudi Arabia could move to do so in the foreseeable future, Cohen answered: “I believe it could happen.” And asked if he had met with Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, he smiled and said “I’d like not to comment on that point.”

Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammad bin Salman speaks at the G20 Osaka Summit, June 29, 2019. (Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images via JTA)

Trump said Tuesday he expected Saudi Arabia to normalize relations with Israel following the diplomatic move taken by Bahrain and the UAE.

He also said he believed some five or six countries were on the path to peace with Israel, then later in the day revised that number to up to nine nations.

Asked if he expected Saudi Arabia to follow the UAE and Bahrain, Trump said: “I do. I spoke with the king of Saudi Arabia,” adding it would come “at the right time.”

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