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Saudi Arabia visit ‘on table’ says Israeli foreign minister

Minister Eli Cohen also says expecting another Arab country to normalise relations with Israel
The Riyadh skyline on 11 January 2020 (AFP)

Israel's Foreign Minister Eli Cohen has said that a visit to Saudi Arabia is "on the table", despite Riyadh's rapprochement with arch-foe Iran.

“This [visit to Saudi Arabia] is on the table, [but] there’s no date [set] yet,” Cohen told Israel’s Army Radio on Wednesday.

Cohen also said at least one Arab country would join the Abraham Accords this year, without elaborating.

Since signing US-sponsored normalising deals with UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco in recent years, Israel has looked to add other countries to the initiative, with Saudi Arabia seen as the most sought-after partner.

However, Riyadh has repeatedly said it will not normalise relations with Israel until Palestinians are granted statehood. 

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Israeli officials have for years touted Iran as a common threat to the region in a bid to corral other Arab countries around a shared enemy. So, when Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations in March, it took both Israel and the US by surprise. 

Diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran have been strained since the 2016 execution of the Saudi Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, a critic of the Saudi monarchy, and dozens of his supporters.

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Attacks by Iranian protesters on the Saudi embassy in Tehran following the execution prompted Riyadh to cut diplomatic ties with Iran.

In a recent interview, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shrugged off concerns that the rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia would dent Israeli prospects for mutual recognition. 

"Saudi Arabia, the leadership there, has no illusions about who their adversaries are and who their friends are in the Middle East.

"They understand that Israel is an indispensable partner for the Arab world in achieving security, prosperity, and peace," Netanyahu said.

"Those who partner with Iran partner with misery."

While Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have official diplomatic relations, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met secretly with Netanyahu in the kingdom in 2020, according to several Israeli media reports at the time.

In December last year, Netanyahu took to Saudi Arabian state television to claim that normalisation was key to peace between Israel and Palestine. 

Palestinians have denounced normalisation deals between Israel and Arab countries, which they say violate a longstanding Arab League position that relations with Israel should only be normalised in exchange for a Palestinian state.

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