Netanyahu hints at trips to Arab states: ‘I recently visited other countries’

PM doesn’t specify which countries he visited, following trip in November to Saudi Arabia for meeting with crown prince

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a televised statement at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a televised statement at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Netanyahu on Saturday hinted that he recently visited several Arab countries, in an apparent reference both to his trip in November to Saudi Arabia and others.

“I recently visited other countries and like I couldn’t say then about the Emirates, I can’t specify right now,” he told officials from his Likud party, according to leaks from the meeting. Netanyahu had been asked about a possible deal with Iraqi Kurds, the Walla news site reported.

The comments come two weeks after Netanyahu said that “many, many more countries” would be signing normalization agreements with the Jewish state “a lot sooner than people expect.”

Netanyahu was reported to meet with the Saudi crown prince in Red Sea city of Neom on November 22, along with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

At the time, a Saudi government adviser confirmed the meeting and the trip to The Wall Street Journal, saying that the meeting, which had lasted several hours, focused on Iran and the establishment of diplomatic ties between Riyadh and Jerusalem, but did not yield substantial agreements. Education Minister Yoav Gallant also confirmed the trip, calling it “an amazing achievement.”

US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia John Abizaid, left, and Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan, second from left, greet Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife Susan as they arrive at Neom Bay Airport in Neom, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)

However, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan denied that Netanyahu or any other officials from the Jewish state had taken part in a meeting with the crown prince, in a tweet issued several hours after the reports started circulating.

Since September, Israel has struck normalization agreements with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, with US officials saying a deal with Saudi Arabia is “inevitable.” Saudi officials, however, have said a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians must precede recognition of the Jewish state.

However, Bahrain normalizing ties suggested at least a Saudi acquiescence to the idea, as the island kingdom relies on Riyadh. Saudi Arabia has also approved flights between Israel and its new Gulf friends passing over its territory.

Israel has long had clandestine ties with Saudi Arabia and Gulf Arab states that have strengthened in recent years, as they have confronted a shared threat in Iran.

In this September 15, 2020 file photo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, US President Donald Trump, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan pose for a photo on the Blue Room Balcony after signing the Abraham Accords during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

In 2018, Netanyahu visited Oman, another country with which it does not have diplomatic ties.

A senior Trump administration official said last month that the White House had offered Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, up to $2 billion in US development aid if it recognizes Israel.

Likud’s Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis said last month that two countries were considered favorites to soon reach a rapprochement with Israel, but refused to name them.

US President Donald Trump said after the Israel-UAE-Bahrain signing ceremony in September that he expected “seven or eight or nine” more countries to normalize ties with Israel, including Saudi Arabia.

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