On Monday, Israeli media reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Saudi Arabia on Sunday to meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Speculation of a possible meeting first started when observers noticed a private plane made a rare flight from Tel Aviv to the Saudi city of Neom, where the meeting was said to have taken place.
The news has been met with conflicting statements by Saudi and Israeli officials. While Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister denied that the meeting took place, an Israeli official said it did happen, and Saudi sources shared details of the meeting with The Wall Street Journal.
According to some reports, Netanyahu was joined by Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency chief Yossi Cohen. Netanyahu and MBS discussed Iran and a possible agreement to normalize relations, following the deals known as the Abraham Accords, which the UAE and Bahrain recently signed. But sources said no deal was made, and the Saudis are not expected to take steps to normalize with Israel anytime soon.
“Despite the efforts by Netanyahu and Pompeo to convince them, the Saudis made clear that, at the moment, they are not ready to take the extra step,” an Israeli official told Israel’s Channel 12.
Pompeo has made it clear in recent comments that one of the main purposes of the normalization deals between Arab countries and Israel is to isolate Iran. With the Trump administration looking to ramp up its “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran before Joe Biden is inaugurated on January 20th, reaching new normalization deals is likely part of the strategy.
Tensions are particularly high in the Middle East between the US and Iran after a report said President Trump reviewed options for a military strike on Iranian nuclear sites earlier this month. Since the report, the US has moved F-16 fighter jets from Germany to the UAE and sent several B-52 bombers to the region, which flew near Israeli airspace.