Reports claim a secret meeting took place between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in spite of denials that it occurred.
A covert meeting allegedly took place between the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince and the Israeli Prime Minister on Sunday, November 22.
Although it was strongly denied by Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, new sources have commented on the truth of the story, in addition to previous unsourced Israeli media reports which claimed the event took place.
Flight tracking websites documented the flight taken by Netanyahu’s private jet from Tel Aviv to Saudi Arabia, while three officials close to Netanyahu emphasised the significance of the meeting, in a seeming confirmation that it actually took place.
If the meeting really has occurred, it would mark a significant move by Saudi Arabia to normalise ties with Israel.
Quid pro quo
In a report published by Business Insider, two officials, one European and one Israeli, claim that the US brokered a meeting between Saudi Arabia and Israel, after an Israeli hit squad assassinated a senior Al Qaeda figure residing in Iran.
They also note that the meeting was intended to smooth the path for Saudi Arabia’s recognition of Israel - this all part of a last-ditch effort by the Trump administration to cement their Middle East policy initiatives before a new administration takes over.
The anonymous figures claimed to have been briefed on the event, one being an Israeli figure who allegedly advises Netanyahu’s political rival and coalition partner Bennie Gantz, while the other claims to have worked for a European nation in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
The operation to assassinate Abu Mohammed al Masri could have been years in the planning, and likely came at the request of US intelligence services.
“It was a joint operation with the Americans providing technical details that identified Masri's secret identity and location in Tehran, while the Israelis provided the actual assassins to do the attack in Tehran," reported one European intelligence official.
Abu Mohammed al Masr was one of Al Qaeda’s original founders and the organisation's second-in-command. He was also the father in-law of the late Hamza bin Laden, who married his daughter Miriam. Both al Masri and Miriam were assassinated by two gunmen on motorcycles in Tehran on November 13.
As a reward for the assassination, the United States is said to have arranged a meeting between Saudi Arabia and Israel, which was supposed to be followed by the Kingdom’s announcement that it would move to formally recognise Israel.
Similar normalisation deals have been brokered between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, and Bahrain.
The Israeli source describes the meeting as the “final step in the process”.
"[Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo had cut a deal with the Israelis over Masri, Israel would do this to help the Americans eliminate a terrorist," said the Israeli official, speaking to Business Insider.
But the plan was more intricate than sending a hit squad to Tehran at the behest of American intelligence. An Israeli official claims that Israel would have produced the assassination as proof that Iran was working closely with Al Qaeda, followed by Saudi Arabia’s move to normalise after Trump’s re-election.
The end result would be “regional confrontation with Iran,” he says.
The plan didn’t work.
"But Trump lost, the Saudis took the meeting and then acted livid [that] it leaked and Bibi [Netanyahu's moniker] had to fly home knowing the Saudis were done with Trump."
The Israeli official describes how the Kingdom was not willing to “make any more moves until the new administration had arrived,” before commenting that the plan “was never going to work.”
The second anonymous source, who allegedly worked for a European intelligence agency while stationed in Riyadh, also commented that the meeting failed to achieve its goal, namely Saudi Arabia’s recognition of Israel.
Why? Because US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner both overestimated Saudi willingness to ruin relations with the incoming Biden administration.
"It's quite possible [the Saudis] took the meeting knowing they'd have to reject that final step of recognition and that it would leak,” he describes.
"Arab regimes always lie to their people, so by saying the meeting did not happen, even as everyone knows it did, the Saudis get to tell the rest of the Arab and Muslim world 'It was just a meeting, we are going to deny it because no deal was made.'"
So what does Saudi Arabia gain?
According to the European-employed official, “they get to both deny it and prepare their own people for the fact that going forward, the Saudis and Israelis will be talking."
It remains to be seen whether the incoming Biden administration will follow Trump’s path and press for further normalisation of ties with Israel throughout the region.