Riyadh – Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made a discreet visit to Israel despite the fact that the Jewish state and Saudi Arabia do not have official diplomatic ties, Israeli and Arab media speculated earlier in the week.
Rumors about the momentous visit, which was not confirmed by Israel, started swirling when Israel Radio’s diplomatic correspondent covering Arab affairs, Simon Aran, took to Twitter to announce the visit. Aran tweeted that a senior Arab figure from the Gulf region paid a visit to Tel Aviv last week, stirring immense interest in the Arab media.
Israel Radio’s Arabic-language broadcast reported that the the senior figure was a “Saudi prince” who met with senior Israelis to discuss regional peace. According to the report, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry refused to comment on the news.
One Arab media outlet reported that the senior official was Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Qatari media and other affiliated news outlets such as the London-based Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper, used the reports as a further opportunity to attack the Saudi royal family which is heading Arab intervention in Yemen, Syria and other locations.
Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, affiliated with Hezbollah and Syria, and London-based newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi, both published the news reported by Israel Radio.
The Saudi response came shortly thereafter, with Saudi website Elaph (which often interviews senior Israeli officials) reporting on Friday that there was a visit by a senior Arab official but, rather than Saudi, it was a Qatari official who visited.
“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 US 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.”
Publications in Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE all joined the media storm.
As expected, news of the visit was not warmly welcomed by the Arab public.
“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.”