Israel’s National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata is due to meet with his US counterpart Jake Sullivan in Washington next week for talks that will include potential steps toward normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, according to a report Thursday.
Citing three Israeli officials, the Axios news site said Hulata will be briefed by a pair of senior Biden administration officials on their trip to Riyadh, which included meetings to finalize Egypt’s transfer of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.
Hulata is Israel’s point man on the islands, which feature prominently in the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement and whose transfer to Saudi control thus require a degree of Israeli support.
The report said Israel and the United States hope that an agreement could foster trust and help create momentum for normalizing ties. Israel has reportedly offered its principled approval for the island transfer, but has requested new security arrangements and several steps toward normalizing.
While Riyadh gave its blessing to client states UAE and Bahrain to normalize ties with Israel, it has refrained from taking the same step, saying it would not do so without a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
During Hulata’s trip, he and Sullivan are also expected to discuss the stalled negotiations on restoring the Iran nuclear deal, as well as US President Joe Biden’s planned trip to Israel. No date has been announced for the visit.
Separately, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported that contacts are already taking place between Israeli and Saudi officials as part of the US efforts to promote ties between the countries. The newspaper said the US is also advancing the formation of a regional defense apparatus ahead of Biden’s visit that would include Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf states.
While the administration has only confirmed Biden’s planned trip to Israel, CNN reported last week that US officials are seeking to organize a meeting between Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Washington has slowly sought to improve ties with Riyadh after Biden came down hard on the latter and its crown prince during his election campaign over the country’s human rights record and the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
But as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to rock the global energy market, the US is finding itself increasingly reliant on Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest crude oil exporter.
Also Thursday, the Biden administration confirmed US National Security Council Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk and State Department energy envoy Amos Hochstein’s trip to Saudi Arabia this week.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the sides discussed “a range of issues including Iran’s destabilizing activities, ensuring stable global energy supplies and other regional issues.”
She denied that McGurk and Hochstein were seeking an increase in Saudi oil production.