Beirut. An Israeli official has reportedly confirmed that a Saudi prince who was widely reported to have visited Israel back in September was Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
In September, Israeli and Arab media reported that a Saudi prince had traveled to Israel and had held consultations with senior Israeli officials over “regional peace.”
Some news outlets identified the Saudi prince in question as Mohamed bin Salman, who was appointed as the first in line to the Saudi throne by his father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, in June. However, there was no official confirmation of the news at the time.
On Friday, however, an Israeli official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP Arabic that Mohammed bin Salman had in fact been the prince who visited Israel in September.
This is while Saudi Arabia and Israel do not have formal diplomatic relations. And while there had already been reports that the Israeli and Saudi regimes have been tilting toward one another in recent years, a confirmed visit by an official as high in ranking as bin Salman takes the matter to a completely new and potentially explosive level as anti-Israeli sentiments continue to be high on the Arab street.
While Israel and Riyadh may be fine with cozying up to one another, many ordinary Arabs, in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, are firmly opposed to the establishment of ties with the Tel Aviv regime because of its occupation of Palestinian lands and atrocities against the Palestinian population.
Israel’s Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz has urged the Saudi king to invite Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to Riyadh to establish full diplomatic relations. Back in June, Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s minister for military affairs, called for a deal with Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, as a prerequisite for any agreement to resolve the decades-long conflict with the Palestinians.
On Thursday, Lieberman underlined the need for “a full regional agreement” with what he called “all moderate Sunni states, including Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.”
But Israeli officials may have also miscalculated the willingness of other Arab governments to establish ties with Tel Aviv. On Wednesday, Kuwaiti National Assembly Speaker Marzouq al-Ghanim furiously told an Israeli delegation During an Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) conference in Russia to leave the hall, calling Israeli officials “occupiers” and “child killers.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been rejoicing at the idea of enhanced relations with Arab countries, particularly since Iran struck a deal with six other countries over its nuclear program.
Some observers maintain that the stepped-up activities of Israel and some Arab regimes to establish ties may have been an attempt to compensate for what they believe is a change in the strategic balance in the region.