Gulf dignitary's travel to Israel sparks speculation

#Diplomacy

An ‘emir of the Saudi royal court’ visited Israel, according to a Voice of Israel radio report

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a recent speech that Israel's relations with the Arab world have never been better (AFP)
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Tuesday 12 September 2017 12:09 UTC
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An unidentified Saudi dignitary travelled to Israel recently, Arab and Israeli media speculated, even though the country does not share formal diplomatic relations with Israel.

Local media reports said the Gulf official went to Israel to discuss “regional peace”.

"An emir of the Saudi royal court visited the country secretly in recent days and discussed with senior Israeli officials the idea of ​​advancing regional peace," said a Voice of Israel radio report. 

According to a Bloomberg report on Monday, communications minister Ayoub Kara said he had met with someone from the Gulf, without divulging any details.

“I met with an important person from a Gulf country and that’s all I can say about it,” Kara told Bloomberg.

Speculation of the meeting has come shortly after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech last Wednesday, in which he said Israel’s relations with the Arab world have never been better in "any other period in Israeli history".

That same day, Israeli reporter Ariel Kahana set out to investigate the PM’s comment, after which he tweeted - based on sources that wished to remain anonymous - that “the background of [Netanyahu’s] statement is the visit of a prominent character from the Arab world today in Israel”.

The following Thursday, Israel Radio correspondent Simon Aran announced via Twitter that it was a Saudi prince who “visited Israel secretly and met with high-ranking Israeli officials to discuss the promotion of regional peace”.

Aran told Middle East Eye that he believes Netanyahu’s speech on Wednesday coupled with several reports by Israeli and Saudi media – all sourced to unidentified individuals - make it seem “very logical that a visit took place”.

Finally, another hint came on Friday from the Gulf, when an officer in the Emirati security forces tweeting under a pseudonym claimed that it was Mohammed bin Salman, accompanied by an entourage of Saudi officials, who visited Israel.

A person associated with several high-ranking Israeli officials told MEE he is “100 percent certain a prominent official from the Gulf visited Israel”. The source said he saw pictures and conclusive information indicating that a visit took place, but he is not certain if it was indeed the Saudi crown prince or someone else.

Shaul Yanai, an Israeli expert on Middle Eastern affairs from Haifa University, told MEE he is not surprised by speculations of a meeting.

Defence minister Avigdor Lieberman and Netanyahu are saying relations with Saudi have never been better, and the reason "for this is the joint strategic coordination against Iran. Iran threatens everybody in the Middle East, this is the main issue here - an alliance against Iran," Yanai said.

Judging by Israeli media, a senior official from Saudi did visit Israel, but I’m not sure it is Mohammed bin Salman, as he is perhaps the most powerful man in the kingdom, and you don’t send such a person to attend secret meetings. That said, he is young and known for breaking traditions, so I can’t be certain that it isn’t him

- Shaul Yanai, Israeli expert on Middle Eastern affairs

"Judging by Israeli media, a senior official from Saudi did visit Israel, but I’m not sure it is Mohammed bin Salman, as he is perhaps the most powerful man in the kingdom, and you don’t send such a person to attend secret meetings. That said, he is young and known for breaking traditions, so I can’t be certain that it isn’t him," Yanai added.

Yanai also said that Saudi planes have been landing in the military zone of Ben Gurion airport, fuelling further speculation. He added that Saudi Arabia has been frustrated with US President Donald Trump.

"Saudi has been re-evaluating its relationship with Israel over the past two months. They need Israel because they don’t trust the United States any more. Trump is disappointing them, he isn’t clear about the crisis in Qatar, he’s allowing the Russians to act in Syria, he’s facing his own problems at home and has no time for them. He’s unstable," said Yanai.

Other media, however, said that it was a Qatari official who travelled to Israel.

According to Elaph, an Arab-language newspaper based out of London, “a high-level Qatari official quietly visited Tel Aviv mid-week and discussed security issues with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu".

Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar do not share diplomatic ties with Israel, but the two countries are locked into a tense dispute after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with the small petro-Gulf state on 5 June.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.