JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli media reported Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Saudi Arabia for a clandestine meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which would mark the first known encounter between senior Israeli and Saudi officials.
Hebrew-language media cited an unnamed Israeli official as saying that Netanyahu and Yossi Cohen, head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, flew to the Saudi city of Neom on Sunday, where they met with the crown prince. The prince was there for talks with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan on Twitter later denied a meeting between the three took place.
“I have seen press reports about a purported meeting between HRH the Crown Prince and Israeli officials during the recent visit by SecPompeo,” he wrote. “No such meeting occurred. The only officials present were American and Saudi.”
The tweet did not elaborate.
State Department deputy spokesman Cale Brown declined to comment when asked about Netanyahu taking part in Pompeo’s meeting with Prince Mohammed.
A Gulfstream IV private jet took off just after 1740 GMT from Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, according to data from website FlightRadar24.com. The flight traveled south along the eastern edge of the Sinai Peninsula before turning toward Neom and landing just after 1830 GMT, according to the data. The flight took off from Neom around 2150 GMT and followed the same route back to Tel Aviv.
The Israeli prime minister’s office did not respond to requests for comment. Officials in Saudi Arabia did not respond to requests for comment, nor did its state-run media immediately acknowledge Netanyahu’s reported visit.
Pompeo traveled with an American press pool on his trip throughout the Mideast, but left them at the Neom airport when he went into his visit with the crown prince.
While Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates have reached deals under the Trump administration to normalize ties with Israel, Saudi Arabia so far has remained out of reach.
King Salman long has supported the Palestinians in their effort to secure an independent state. However, analysts and insiders suggest his 35-year-old son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, likely is more open to the idea of normalizing relations without major progress in the moribund peace process.
The kingdom approved the use of Saudi airspace for Israeli flights to the UAE, a decision announced the day after Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, met with Prince Mohammed in Riyadh. Bahrain normalizing ties also suggest at least a Saudi acquiescence to the idea, as the island kingdom relies on Riyadh.
Israel has long had clandestine ties to Gulf Arab states that have strengthened in recent years as they have confronted a shared threat in Iran.
By ILAN BEN ZION Associated Press
Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed.