Saudi Arabia denies, Israel confirms 'Netanyahu-MBS secret meeting'

Saudi Arabia denies, Israel confirms 'Netanyahu-MBS secret meeting'

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travelled to Saudi Arabia and met its crown prince, an Israeli official said on Monday, in what would be the first publicly confirmed visit there by an Israeli leader as the countries close ranks against Iran. No such meeting occurred. "Saudi and American officials were the only ones present throughout", he said.

It would be the first known meeting between leaders of the historical foes, who the United States wants to normalise ties.

Netanyahu was reportedly accompanied by Mossad intelligence chief Yossi Cohen during the alleged visit.

The three-way meeting with Pompeo, Netanyahu, Cohen, and bin Salman was prepared by Elliott Abrams, an old Middle East hand of the U.S. administration.

A similar agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel would be much more significant because of the kingdom's size, wealth and standing in the Muslim world as the protector of Islam's holiest sites.

Earlier, Israel's Army Radio and Kan Radio both reported that Mr Netanyahu had secretly flown on Sunday to the Saudi Red Sea town of Neom for talks with Crown Prince Mohammed and Mr Pompeo amid a diplomatic flurry prompted by regional fears of Iran.

King Salman long has supported the Palestinians in their effort to secure an independent state.

The reports come as an array of Israeli reporters, including Barak Ravid, claimed that the alleged secret gathering took place in Neom, a newly planned Saudi city, located a few miles from Israel's southern border.

People travelling with Pompeo declined comment.

The website Flightradar24, which provides live flight tracking, showed a flight leaving Tel Aviv on Monday around 7:30 p.m. which then dropped off the radar near Neom about an hour later. The Trump administration, as well as Netanyahu, would love to add the Saudis to that list before it leaves office in January.

The Prime Minister's Office initially decided not to comment on the news at all, but it became clear that everyone in the small and well-connected Jewish State was in the know, so why bother.

The reported meeting puts even more pressure on Iran ahead of an incoming Biden administration that has signalled a potential willingness to return to the 2015 nuclear deal.

The kingdom approved the use of Saudi airspace for Israeli flights to the UAE.

Israel and its Gulf partners may share concern about a possible review of USA policies in the region by Biden, who takes office on January 20.

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