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Israeli press review: Netanyahu-MBS meeting kept secret from Israeli ministers

Meanwhile, Israelis on the verge of heading to a fourth election since April 2019 as political factions look into bill to dissolve Knesset in December
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and his coalition partner Defence Minister Benny Gantz (AFP)

Netanyahu-MBS meeting causes a stir

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly kept his defence and foreign ministers in the dark regarding his meeting on Sunday with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US Foreign Secretary Mike Pompeo.

The meeting, which took place on Saudi soil near the Red Sea, was leaked to US and Israeli media, leading Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Defence Minister Benny Gantz to hear the news from the outlets.

Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan has denied any meeting took place with Netanyahu, saying the Saudi crown prince only met with US officials.

'It is as if bin Salman came to say to the Americans: don't take us for granted'

- Israeli analyst Smadar Peri

Israeli analyst Smadar Peri wrote in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper that Saudi officials had confirmed to her that Farhan did “his duty” with the denial, but that the meeting had in fact happened, and that Saudi officials had discussed normalisation with Israel and the Iranian threat.

While further details of the meeting remain unknown, Peri wrote that the timing was crucial, and aimed at sending a message to US President-elect Joe Biden, who will be inaugurated on 20 January, that a strong Israeli-Saudi alliance was forming. 

“It is as if bin Salman came to say to the Americans: don't take us for granted,” Peri wrote.

This is not the first meeting between Israel and Saudi Arabia, nor between Netanyahu and MBS, as the crown prince is also known. Peri wrote that Israel’s Mossad chief spy Yossi Cohen is “almost a son of a house in Saudi Arabia”.

A fourth election ahead? 

Israel might be on the verge of heading to a fourth legislative election since April 2019, after Gantz announced that his party would propose dissolving the Knesset, Israel's parliament, next week.

Tensions between Gantz and Netanyahu had further risen over the weekend, when Gantz said that he was setting up a government committee to explore the role of the premier's office in buying naval assets, and the roles of the National Security Agency and the defence ministry.

Several of Netanyahu’s close associates were indicted in the legal corruption case known as Case 3,000, involving a multi-billion-shekel deal to buy three submarines for Israel's navy from Germany's ThyssenKrupp in 2016.

'But if I have to go into battle then that is what I will do. I am waging this battle for the state of Israel'

- Benny Gantz

“I have been in the government half a year, cooperating as best I can, paying every political price possible, but if I have to go into battle then that is what I will do,” Gantz told Yedioth Ahronoth on Monday. “I am waging this battle for the state of Israel.”

On Tuesday he announced that he was studying the possibility of proposing a bill next week to dissolve the Knesset in preparation for a fourth election. 

"I do not see how the performance of the government will change, and that is why we are on our way to the elections," he told Radio Kan on Tuesday.

The Yesh Atid Party, headed by Yair Lapid, would have to join arms with Gantz's Blue and White Party for the bill to pass in the Knesset. Lapid announced that he would also submit a bill to dissolve the Knesset on 2 December.

If the bill failed to pass, MKs would not be able to submit another one for six months unless approved by the speaker of the Knesset, Yariv Levin, who is a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party. 

Netanyahu criticised Gantz for the proposed government committee over the submarine scandal, saying: “I think it is a shame that Gantz uses the Israeli army as a tool for political harassment."

* Israeli press review is a digest of reports that are not independently verified as accurate by Middle East Eye.