- The United States helped negotiate a meeting between the leaders of Israel and Saudi Arabia, according to two officials briefed on the matter.
- The two sources – one Israeli and one European – said the meeting was a reward for the daring assassination in August of an Al Qaeda target in Iran.
- The secret meeting, they said, was intended to pave the way for Saudi Arabia to officially recognize Israel.
- However, it failed to meet its targets and Saudi Arabia has publicly denied that a meeting took place.
- Insider sources characterized the move as an offer by Trump officials hoping to lock down their foreign policy choices before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
- Visit the Business Insider homepage for more stories.
U.S. officials organized a meeting between the Israeli prime minister and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia as a reward for the assassination of a leading al-Qaeda member, intelligence sources told Insider.
Two officials, one from Israel and another who worked in Saudi Arabia on behalf of a European nation, described the background to the secret meeting at the recent G20 summit.
She saw Benjamin Netanyahu meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – an extraordinary milestone for two nations with a decades-long history of hostility.
The meeting was secret, but became public after details were released by Israeli media.
After the reports, Saudi Arabia
. But both officials confirmed that was the case.
I have seen press reports about a purported meeting between HRH the Crown Prince and Israeli officials during the recent visit by @SecPompeo. No such meeting occurred. The only officials present were American and Saudi.— فيصل بن فرحان (@FaisalbinFarhan) November 23, 2020
Both had been informed of what had happened and had requested anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic issues.
They called the meeting a reward for US officials for doing them a favor: the August assassination of Abu Mohammed al Masri, a senior al Qaeda official living in Iran.
Insider previously noted that the transaction would be difficult to complete without making some sort of deal with the United States.
Hence the side meeting of the G20. According to the New York Times, the meeting was a way of announcing that Saudi Arabia would move to officially recognize Israel, after similar deals with Sudan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
The Israeli official who spoke to Insider said: “This was supposed to be the last step in the process.”
The official advises coalition partner and political rival of Netanyahu, Bennie Gantz.
« [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo had made a deal with the Israelis over Masri, Israel would do this to help the Americans take out a terrorist, while drawing attention to those al-Qaeda guys still in Iran, ”the official said.
“The plan was for Bahrain, Sudan and the UAE to normalize [with Israel], then produce Masri’s assassination as evidence that Iran was working with Al Qaeda. The Saudis were going to normalize as Trump was re-elected and there would be some sort of regional showdown with Iran. ”
“But Trump lost, the Saudis took the meeting and then acted furiously [that] he fled and Bibi [Netanyahu’s nickname] had to go home knowing the Saudis were done with Trump. ”
The official said the Saudis were unwilling to make any further movement until the new administration arrived and [new US] officials could talk to Saudi diplomats. ”
When asked if the plan was ever viable, the Israeli official laughed and said he “was never going to work”.
He blamed “Pompeo and Bibi and a chorus of idiots and charlatans working on all sides of the problem,” and said the real goal was to degrade relations with Iran so far as President-elect Joe Biden would have little leeway to fix them.
A second official, who until recently was stationed in Riyadh by a European intelligence agency, agreed the meeting was a reward for the United States, but said it fell short of its goal of a explicit recognition.
“The Americans owed the Israelis this meeting,” he said, “and certainly Pompeo and [Jared] Kushner wanted the Saudis to sign on the line. ”
The official said Pompeo and Kushner overestimated the extent to which the Saudi leadership would be willing to jeopardize their relationship with the new Biden administration.
” It’s entirely possible [the Saudis] took the meeting knowing that they would have to reject this last step of recognition and she would flee.
“Arab regimes always lie to their people, so by saying that the meeting did not take place, even as everyone knows, the Saudis can tell the rest of the Arab and Muslim world ‘It was just a meeting, we’re going to deny it because no deal has been made. ”
“So they can both deny it and prepare their own people for the fact that in the future the Saudis and the Israelis are going to speak. “
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