Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking to formalize relations with Saudi Arabia, and hopes to make ties official and public before the next Israeli general election, Hadashot TV news reported Saturday evening.
The report said the US and Mossad chief Yossi Cohen were involved in the diplomatic effort, though no further details were provided.
The next general elections in Israel are scheduled for November 2019, though many in the political establishment believe they will be moved to earlier in the year.
A senior diplomatic source told Hadashot that Israel was conducting extensive talks with many Arab nations, based on a shared interest in countering Iran.
The Prime Minister’s Office would not comment on the report.
Netanyahu has for years spoken about the warming of ties between Israel and the Arab world, citing not only Iran as a common enemy, but also many countries’ interest in cooperating with Israel on security and defense matters, as well as Israel’s growing high-tech industry.
In October Oman welcomed the Israeli premier in a surprise visit, which marked an apparent sign of Israeli progress in improving ties with the Gulf states.
In November Netanyahu welcomed Chadian President Idriss Déby for a historic visit to the Jewish state, laying the groundwork for normalizing ties with the Muslim-majority countries of Sudan, Mali, and Niger, according to a report on Israel’s Channel 10 News.
Déby told Israeli leaders in Jerusalem that he wishes to restore diplomatic relations. During a press conference with Déby, Netanyahu remarked that “there will be more such visits in Arab countries very soon,” without providing details.
Other reports said Israel is also working to normalize relations with Bahrain.
Netanyahu stressed that previous leaders had attempted to strengthen Israel’s international standing with “dangerous concessions, including uprooting communities,” referring to the 2005 disengagement plan by former prime minister Ariel Sharon, in which all settlements in the Gaza Strip were dismantled.
“That hasn’t happened — and won’t happen — with me,” Netanyahu said. “The exact opposite is happening. We are getting the world’s support, including by many in the Arab world, through our strong and steadfast standing.
“We believe in peace out of strength, we believe in alliances born out of Israel’s value as a technological, financial, defense, and intelligence powerhouse,” he added. “That’s what we will continue doing, and that’s also how we’ll achieve peace.”
Israel’s ongoing thawing of relations with various Arab and Muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa is said to be sending Palestinian Authority officials scrambling, concerned that support for their cause is waning among allies.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s senior adviser Nabil Shaath told the Haaretz daily that Ramallah is seeking to convene emergency sessions of the Arab League and Organization of Islamic Cooperation as it worries that countries such as Chad, Sudan, Bahrain, Oman, and Saudi Arabia are moving closer toward normalization with Jerusalem — relations that would counter resolutions passed by the two umbrella bodies.
Netanyahu reportedly urged Washington not to abandon its support for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman following the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.
A report in The Washington Post said Netanyahu told Trump administration officials that bin Salman was a key strategic partner and a linchpin of the alliance against Iranian encroachment in the region.
In public comments on the death of Khashoggi, the Israeli leader called the killing “horrendous” but stressed that “it is very important for the stability of the region and the world that Saudi Arabia remain stable.”
Many Democrats in Washington were said to have been furious at Netanyahu’s defense of the Saudis.
US senators last week said they were convinced that bin Salman was involved in the death of Khashoggi after a briefing with CIA Director Gina Haspel.