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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Sunday in the Saudi city of Neom, in the first meeting between the two leaders, an Israeli minister confirmed.
Speaking on Israel’s Army Radio, Education Minister Yoav Gallant, a member of the Prime Minister’s Likud party, called the meeting an “incredible achievement” and congratulated Netanyahu.
“Let us say that the very existence of the meeting, the fact that it was put out publicly, even if it is only half-official at the moment, [is] a matter of great importance from any aspect and matter,” Gallant said when asked by the radio interviewer about the meeting.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was also in the city of Neom as part of his swing through the region, two days after he had been in Israel.
The Israeli and Saudi governments have not commented officially on the meeting, which was first reported by Barak Ravid of Walla! News and Axios. Netanyahu was joined by Mossad head Yossi Cohen, who has spearheaded the normalization efforts between Israel and the Sunni Gulf states.
A private business jet often used by Israeli officials was tracked flying from Israel toward Saudi Arabia and the city of Neom on Sunday, according to flight tracking websites ADS-B Exchange, FlightAware, and others. The flight returned to Israel a few hours later.
The meeting is the first of its kind between the Israeli Prime Minister and the Saudi Crown Prince, and it comes just months after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain normalized relations with Israel. Bahrain almost certainly had tacit Saudi approval for the move, given the tiny kingdom’s reliance and closeness to Saudi Arabia, analysts have said.
A short time before the flight left Israel, Netanyahu foreshadowed the continued change in relations with more Gulf states.
Speaking at a memorial ceremony for Israel’s first leader, David Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu said, “Following the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, recently, within six weeks, we brought three new peace agreements and normalization agreements: with the UAE, with Bahrain, and with Sudan. If we continue down this path of strengthening Israel’s power, and strengthening the ties with the moderate Arab world that push toward stability and advancement — we will see more Arab states that widen the circle of peace.”