TEL AVIV – A senior Saudi royal made a clandestine visit to Israel last week despite the lack of diplomatic ties between the countries, according to numerous claims picked up by the Israeli and Arab media.
Israel Radio’s diplomatic correspondent Simon Aran tweeted about the visit, stirring a maelstrom of speculation in the Arabic-language media.
The Israel Broadcasting Corporation then reported that a senior member of the Saudi royal family held high-level talks with Israeli officials in Tel Aviv.
“A prince from the Royal Court visited the country in secret over the past few days and discussed the idea of pushing regional peace forward with a number of senior Israeli officials,” the IBC reported, citing the Russian Sputnik media outlet.
One Arab media outlet reported that the senior official was Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman.
Israel has not confirmed the reports.
The London-based Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper, as well as various other Qatari-affiliated outlets, subsequently attacked the Saudi royal family for collaborating with Israelis.
However, on Friday Saudi website Elaph countered that it was actually a senior Qatari official who visited Israel.
“A senior Elaph source told the newspaper that a high-level Qatari official quietly visited Tel Aviv midweek and discussed security issues with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” wrote the newspaper. “The source added that the visit lasted two days before his meeting with Kuwaiti emir Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and U.S. President Donald Trump to discuss the Qatar diplomatic crisis.”
“The senior Qatari emissary discussed security issues with Israeli representatives, including military steps that concern Doha due to their potential to escalate the Qatar crisis with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE,” reported Elaph. “The Qatari official explained the fragile situation that his country is in to his Israeli hosts in the hope that Israel will help reduce tensions and even solve the crisis through behind-the-scenes efforts. According to reports, Israel will ‘look into the issue.’ Official Israeli sources refused to confirm or deny the reports.”
The Egyptian press, as well as outlets in Bahrain and the UAE, also published the report on Prince Salman.
According to Aran, who sparked the rumors with his tweet, the subsequent outrage in the Arab world is harmful to Israel but is to be expected.
“The reports published in Arab media have negative connotations due to their connections to Israel,” said Aran, who originally sparked the media’s frenzy over the alleged visit. “It is important to remember, however, that in the distant past there were Arab representatives in Israel, including an ambassador from Mauritius, and financial representatives from Qatar, Tunisia, Morocco and Oman – at the same time that an Israeli representative was posted in Doha, the capital city of Qatar.”
“Even today, according to unofficial sources, there are secret economic and trade relationships between Israel and some of these countries. The prime minister and other senior government officials have spoken of cooperation and have hinted at relationships with countries with whom Israel does not have diplomatic relations,” he added.
News of the visit came a day after Netanyahu’s claim that relations between Israel and the Arab world were better than ever before.
“What’s happening now with the Arab bloc states has never before happened in our history – even when we signed agreements,” said Netanyahu.
“What we have now is greater than anything else during any other period in Israel’s history.”