In a new stunning development Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu flew to Saudi Arabia on Sunday to meet with the de-facto ruler of the Kingdom, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, also called MBS by the media.
MBS is known for his out-of-the-box thinking and has introduced sweeping reforms in Saudi Arabia. He is also working on a mega-project near the Red Sea where he wants to construct a huge 26,500 square kilometers city called Neom that will have a direct connection to the Sinai Peninsula via a giant bridge.
Netanyahu met MBS in Neom together with his National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, his Military Secretary Avi Bluth and Mossad Director Yossi Cohen, who has also played an important role in the negotiations that led to the so-called Abraham Accords, the peace agreements between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Although Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faital bin Fatahn officially denied the meeting between Netanyahu and MBS had taken place, flight trackers in Israel confirmed a private plane that Netanyahu earlier used for trips abroad took off at 7.30 PM in the direction of Neom and landed back in Israel on Monday 12.30 AM.
The trip was planned in Israel for more than one month, but was kept tightly under the wraps because Netanyahu doesn’t trust his coalition partners in Blue and White, headed by Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, both of them former IDF chiefs of staff.
Netanyahu has a bad relationship with both Gantz and Ashkenazi and the secrecy surrounding his trip to Saudi Arabia could now even lead to new elections in Israel. Gantz told members of his Blue and White faction that this was not proper behavior for a prime minister, and threatened to help topple the government and go to early election, even though doing so would decimate his own party.
During a faction meeting with Likud members, Netanyahu said that “for years I never commented on these matters and will not start now. For years, I have spared no effort in strengthening Israel and expanding the circle of peace.”
The meeting in Neom, which is currently under construction, came about after American intervention. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also attended the meeting and is encouraging other Arab Gulf States to follow the example of Bahrain and the UAE and to normalize their relationships with Israel before US President Donald J. Trump leaves office at the end of January 2021.
MBS has in the past shown a special interest in normalizing ties with the Jewish state, and organized meetings between top Israel officials and Saudis during a trip to Cairo in March 2018.
Officially, the meeting dealt with MBS’s ambitious plan to build the megacity of Neom, which will be partly built in Jordan and Egypt as well, but also addressed the upcoming American plan to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The $500 billion plan for the construction of Neom, a city of 26,500 square kilometers (the size of Belgium), includes hydro-agriculture projects which will be reportedly realized with Israeli help.
MBS has also called for religious freedom in Saudi Arabia, and visited the heads of the Coptic Church in Egypt and the Anglo-Catholic Church in the United Kingdom while signing a deal with the Vatican to build churches in the ultra-conservative Muslim country.
MBS later met with a delegation of Jewish American leaders while on a long trip in the United States, where he held talks with Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s advisers on the Middle East and Israel.
Details of the meeting with the Jewish delegation were later leaked to the media and suggested the Saudi Crown Prince had “castigated” Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian officials for spurning every opportunity to reach a peace agreement with Israel.
The Palestinian Arabs should accept the Trump peace plan or “simply shut up,” MBS reportedly told the Jewish leaders.
The changing Saudi attitude toward Israel inspired by Crown Prince MBS has also been reflected in publications by intellectuals, commentators, and journalists in the oil-rich Kingdom.
Saudi writers “have been increasingly expressing open support for Israel, approving of its policy towards Iran and even calling to normalize relations and make peace with it,” the Middle East Media Research Institute reported in the summer of 2018.
For example, during the so-called “Great March of Return,” the Hamas-organized violent weekly protests on the Gaza-Israeli border that took place in 2018 and 2019, some Saudi commentators blamed Hamas and Iran for the deadly turmoil, and said Hamas and Iran “were promoting their interests at the expense of the children of Gaza.”
Iran has clearly replaced Israel as Saudi Arabia’s biggest foe, a fact that is also prominently featuring in many articles and commentaries published in the country since that time.
“Today, the Arabs have no choice but to reconcile with Israel, and to sign a comprehensive peace agreement (with it), in order to free themselves up for confronting the great Iranian plan in the region, and (Iran’s) nuclear program, and to end (Iran’s) intervention in Arab affairs,” Ahmad Al-Jumay’a, the former deputy editor of the Saudi daily Al-Riyadh, wrote in August 2018.
“If war breaks out between Israel and Iran, aimed at eliminating the foreign militias Iran has brought into Syria, who will you support?!… (My) answer, which does not take a lot of courage to utter openly in the paper, is that I will side with Israel,” Ali Sa’d Al-Moussa, a columnist for the government daily Al-Watan later exclaimed.
It remains unclear what Saudi King Salman’s position is on the new overtures between his son Mohammed and the Israeli government, but the fact of the matter is that MBS is the de-facto ruler of Saudi Arabia and he has shown that he is in favor of normalization of the relations with the Jewish state, time after time.