News site claims Mossad head met Saudi, UAE, Egypt intel officials on Gulf visit

Unconfirmed Middle East Eye report says Yossi Cohen agreed with counterparts on measures to counter Iran and Turkey; reportedly said Ankara a bigger threat than Tehran

Mossad Director Yossi Cohen attends a handover ceremony for the position of IDF chief of military intelligence, at the Glilot military base, near Tel Aviv, on March 28, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Mossad Director Yossi Cohen attends a handover ceremony for the position of IDF chief of military intelligence, at the Glilot military base, near Tel Aviv, on March 28, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A Middle East news site claimed Tuesday that the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency met with top officials from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates during a trip to the Gulf last month.

During the meeting, which took place in the capital of an unnamed Gulf state, Yossi Cohen and his interlocutors agreed on a series of measures to roll back Iranian and Turkish influence in the region, the Middle East Eye news site, based in London and funded by Qatar, reported Tuesday.

The article further claimed that the representatives of the four countries together “hatched a plan” to help rehabilitate Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, and see him returned to the Arab League.

There was no independent confirmation of the report. Assad’s Syria is a sworn enemy of Israel.

The report did not name the other participants in the meeting besides Cohen, but described them as senior intelligence officials from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

Unlike Egypt, Israel does not have diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia or the UAE, though Jerusalem is said to have developed clandestine ties with both in recent years over the countries’ shared antipathy toward Iran.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Mossad head Yossi Cohen during a toast for the Jewish New Year on October 2, 2017. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Cohen has previously been linked to Israeli outreach efforts to Arab states, with Channel 10 news reporting in November that he played the lead role in contacts between Israel and Oman, culminating in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the Gulf sultanate in October.

According to the Middle East Eye, Cohen and the other intelligence officials agreed during the meeting last month that Turkey, and not Iran, is their most formidable rival.

“Iranian power is fragile. The real threat comes from Turkey,” Cohen was quoted saying.

The report did not say why Israel would view Turkey as a greater threat than Iran, whose leaders regularly call for Israel’s destruction, back terror groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and, Israel claims, continue to seek a path to attain a nuclear weapons arsenal.

While Israel and Turkey once enjoyed close diplomatic and security ties, relations have frayed at under current Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has regularly railed against the Jewish state and backed the Palestinian terror group Hamas.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) speaks with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh during a January 2012 meeting in Istanbul. (Mohammed al-Ostaz/Flash90)

Erdogan is also sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group that is considered a terror organization by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

The Middle East Eye said the meeting also dealt with the fallout after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, responsibility for which has been pinned on Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

While Khashoggi’s murder has led to calls by lawmakers in the United States and other Western countries for a reassessment of ties with Saudi Arabia, Netanyahu has said that the “horrific” killing should not overshadow the importance of the kingdom’s stability for global security.

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