Days after Netanyahu met crown prince on trip to Saudi

‘Until King Salman has gone,’ no progress on Israel-Saudi normalization – report

Source tells Israeli TV that cooperation against Iran will increase, but monarch at odds with the crown prince on public ties with Jewish state

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, left, speaks to his father, King Salman, at a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh, December 9, 2018. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, left, speaks to his father, King Salman, at a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh, December 9, 2018. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)

No progress toward normalized ties with Saudi Arabia will be made so long as King Salman remains in power, according to an unnamed “senior Israeli source” who is familiar with the interactions between the two countries, Channel 12 news reported Thursday.

The source told the outlet that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had a “very warm meeting” in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, in what was the first publicly reported meeting between the two.

However, “Israel understands that there will not be a breakthrough with the Saudis in the near future” because King Salman “takes a diametrically opposite stance” on the matter of normalization with Israel to that of his son, the report said.

Therefore, the source said, it was understood that “progress will only be possible after King Salman has gone.”

Saudi King Salman in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on March 26, 2020. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)

Despite that, “cooperation against the joint enemy Iran” will increase, as will bilateral trade between the two nations.

The source also said that flights from Israel’s national carrier El Al will not overfly Saudi Arabia in the near future. In September, the kingdom approved the use of its airspace for Israeli flights to and from the UAE, a decision announced the day after Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, met with Prince Mohammed in Riyadh.

The Wall Street Journal reported in September that the Saudi king remains committed to a boycott of Israel coupled with a strong stance in favor of the Palestinian demand for an independent state, while the crown prince is open to normalization with the Jewish state and the business opportunities it could bring as well as public coordination in the struggle against Iran.

Nonetheless, Trump predicted before the US presidential elections that Saudi Arabia would be one of up to 10 more countries to normalize ties with Israel in the near future.

Riyadh’s crown prince and Netanyahu held unprecedented talks late Sunday in the Saudi Red Sea city of Neom, along with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, reportedly including discussions on Iran and normalization.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, L, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrive to make a joint statement after meeting in Jerusalem on November 19, 2020. (Maya Alleruzzo / POOL / AFP)

The Kan public broadcaster and Channel 12 both quoted an unnamed senior Israeli official Monday evening as saying that no breakthrough was expected anytime soon.

“Despite the efforts by Netanyahu and Pompeo to convince them, the Saudis made clear that, at the moment, they are not ready to take the extra step. That’s why no additional [normalization] ceremony can be expected in the near future,” an official told Channel 12.

“No breakthrough toward an agreement is expected. It won’t happen so fast,” Kan cited an official as saying.

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.”

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.

“I have seen press reports about a purported meeting between HRH the Crown Prince and Israeli officials during the recent visit by @SecPompeo. No such meeting occurred. The only officials present were American and Saudi,” he wrote.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a virtual G-20 summit held over video conferencing, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, November 22, 2020. (Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via AP)

Channel 12 quoted Israeli sources as saying the Saudis were angry that news of the meeting had been leaked. However, the Ynet news site earlier quoted two officials involved in the talks as saying the Saudi crown prince had not objected to the meeting being publicized.

Netanyahu’s office has not commented on the reported trip and meeting, but the premier did not deny that the meeting took place, while making a cryptic statement at the outset of his Likud party’s weekly faction meeting.

“I have not commented on such matters for years and I am not going to start now,” he said, when asked directly about the trip by his coalition chief, Likud MK Miki Zohar. “For years I haven’t spared any effort to strengthen Israel and broaden the circle of peace.”

Bahrain, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates have reached deals to normalize ties with Israel in recent months, though a similar agreement with Saudi Arabia so far has remained out of reach.

Bahrain normalizing ties suggested at least a Saudi acquiescence to the idea, as the island kingdom relies on Riyadh.

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

Agencies contributed to this report.

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