Times of Middle East

Saudi Arabia denies Netanyahu’s visit, aviation data tells a different story

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan denied Israeli media reports on Monday that a meeting occurred between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), in the Saudi city of Neom.

Israel’s Army Radio and Kan Radio both claimed that the Israeli Prime Minister and the head of Israel’s spy agency, the Mossad, Yosef Meir Cohen, secretly flew to Neom from Tel Aviv to meet Saudi Arabia’s, Crown Prince.

“I received and bid farewell to Secretary of State Pompeo in the airport in Neom and attended his meeting with the Crown Prince. There were no Israelis present,” Saudi Arabian foreign minister Prince Faisal told Al Arabiya English. Saudi Arabia denies Netanyahu’s visit explicitly.

The BBC’s Chief International Correspondent Lyse Doucet, who is in Riyadh, says senior Saudi officials are denying this highly sensitive story, on and off the record. This has long been a matter of very delicate diplomacy for the kingdom, which has taken an awkward, if not embarrassing, turn, she adds.

Read more: Israel PM Netanyahu holds secret meeting with MBS in Saudi Arabia: report

Trump administration to widespread Israel normalization deals

The Red Sea resort of Neom is a hi-tech and tourism hub planned by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It is close to the borders of Egypt and Jordan, and only some 70km (44 miles) from the southern tip of Israel. The Israeli media claim came weeks after Israel was recognized by the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Sudan. US President Donald Trump, who leaves office in less than two months, brokered the normalization deals.

There has been widespread speculation, within Israel and the US that Washington may push for other Arab states to follow suit before President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was in Israel last week, was also at the reported talks, according to Kan’s diplomatic correspondent. Pompeo has confirmed he was in Neom on the Red Sea as part of a Middle East Tour and met MBS.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has recently reaffirmed Pakistan’s stance that it will not recognize Israel until a just settlement with the Palestinians is reached.

Saudi Arabia to stand back from the normalization of Israel

Saudi Arabia has said it would stick to the decades-old Arab League position of not having ties with Israel until the Jewish state’s conflict with the Palestinians is resolved. The Palestinians have condemned the normalization deals as “a stab in the back”, urging Arab states to hold firm until Israel ends its occupation of Palestinian territory and agrees to the creation of a Palestinian state.

In late August, Netanyahu claimed Israel was holding “unpublicized meetings with Arab and Muslim leaders to normalize relations with the state of Israel”, without naming any countries.

Read more: Normalization with Israel ‘would get me killed by my own people’: Saudi Prince MBS

Aviation data tells a different story to Saudi FM

According to data from FlightRadar24.com, a Gulfstream IV jet took off from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International airport on Sunday afternoon and flew south along the eastern coast of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula before heading towards Saudi Arabia’s northwestern Red Sea coast, the BBC reported Monday.

The aircraft landed in Neom just after 18:30 GMT and remained there until 21:50, according to the data. It then returned to Tel Aviv via the same route.

This has long been a matter of very delicate diplomacy for the kingdom, which has taken an awkward, if not embarrassing, turn, she adds.

Tellingly, in October 2018, the editor of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz’s English edition, Ami Scharf, claimed in a tweet that an Israeli jet traveled to Islamabad from Tel Aviv and remained on the ground in the Pakistani capital for nearly 10 hours. He said the jet made a brief stopover in Amman on the way to Islamabad because of which it got a new call sign and became an Amman-Islamabad flight.

It was claimed that the aircraft bearing tail number M-ULTI landed in Islamabad on Oct 24 at 5:40 am. The journalist, citing data of flight tracking website flightradar24, said the plane descended from 40,000 feet to 20,000ft near Islamabad before going out of coverage. The aircraft reappeared 10 hours later heading southwest from Islamabad. It followed the same flight path for the return journey making a landing in Amman and then taking off for Tel Aviv.

The mysterious trip reportedly happened a day before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the first visit to Oman by an Israeli premier in over 20 years. That visit too was kept secret till Netanyahu Tweeted a video of the meeting and reception in Oman.

Pakistan stands by the Palestinian causes

Like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan had categorically denied the Israeli report as fabricated. Interestingly, Prime Minister Imran Khan has recently reaffirmed Pakistan’s stance that it will not recognize Israel until a just settlement with the Palestinians is reached.

Many Middle East experts believe that reports such as Netanyahu’s secret visit to Neom to meet the Saudi Crown Prince are aimed at altering anti-Israeli public opinion in the Arab and Muslim masses.

Read more: Is Saudi Arabia pressing Pakistan to recognize Israel?

Last month dozens of Sudanese people demonstrated in the capital Khartoum following the joint statement from Israel, Sudan, and the United States saying that the two countries agreed to “end the state of belligerence between their nations”.

Protesters chanted “no peace, no negotiation, no reconciliation with the occupying entity” and “we will not surrender, we will always stand with Palestine,” according to Al Jazeera.

A statement from Sudan’s Popular Congress Party, the second most prominent component of the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) political coalition, said Sudanese people are not obligated to accept the normalization deal.

“We see that our people, who are being systematically isolated and marginalized from secret deals, are not bound by the normalization agreement,” the statement said.

Read more: Israel sends first delegation to Sudan since normalisation

The author is the chief editor of the Journal of America. He can be reached at asghazali2011@gmail.com.The views expressed in this article are the authors own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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