In covering a meeting between Israeli Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold and former Saudi government adviser Anwar Eski on June 4 at the Council of Foreign Relations think tank in Washington, the Bloomberg writer Eli Lake disclosed that emissaries of the two governments had secretly met five times in recent months to talk about Iran.
He quoted American sources as reporting that these meetings took place in India, Italy and the Czech Republic, although the encounter in Washington was the first public occasion.
Clandestine Saudi-Israeli parleys have been going on for at least four years since 2011, as DEBKA Weekly has reported more than once – all of them, apart from two, taking place in Jordan.
Our intelligence sources describe the three-levels of this ongoing dialogue:
1. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has met with high-ranking Saudi princes, the most senior being Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, during his seven years (2005-2012) as Director of General Intelligence (Al Muhabarat Al A’amah).
Muqrin also had a brief stint as Crown Prince (from January to April 2015). One of the late King Abdullah’s most influential advisers, he had a strong hand in shaping national policies. His career was cut short after King Salman bin Abdulaziz acceded to the throne.
Active and regular intelligence-sharing
Netanyahu also got together in Amman more than once with Muqrin’s predecessor Prince Bandar Bin Sultan who doubled as intelligence chief and National Security Adviser. Jordan’s King Abdullah II was sometimes present.
During Bandar’s long career as Saudi Ambassador to Washington (1983-2005), he conversed frequently with top Israeli officials on visits to the US.
2. Conferences between security and intelligence chiefs have by now become a regular feature of the bilateral relationship, attended in the early days by Mossad Director Meir Dagan and latterly by his successor Tamir Pardo.
The two sides trade intelligence on current events in the region, especially concerning Iran and Syria, and share items which one side believes is important to the other. They often coordinate actions that follow decisions agreed between the prime minister and senior princely officials.
3. Heads of Israel, Saudi and Jordanian military intelligence agencies have also met in Amman and Rabat, Morocco.
Israel’s military industry kept busy supplying Gulf clients
Between 2010 and 2013, these clandestine get-togethers prompted speculative press reports that Saudi Arabia had granted the Israeli Air Force the use of its air bases for attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities. These rumors sprang from the fertile brains of journalists and were picked up by various interested parties in order to provoke illuminating responses from Riyadh and Jerusalem.
Neither government reacted. By mid-2012, when Israel had still not attacked Iran, the rumor mill stopped spinning.
However Israeli and Saudi officials continue their exchanges up until the present. Both find intelligence-sharing extremely valuable on events related to Iran and its allies, including Syrian President Bashar Assad and heads of his regime, the Lebanese Hizballah and the Houthi rebels of Yemen.
Israel’s armaments industry moreover turns out products that meet the requirements of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates. These items are kept closely secret, but the scale of the Gulf munitions market is indicated by the intensity of the interest displayed by China.
Intent on expanding its influence in the Gulf region, Beijing has embarked on a shopping-cum-takeover spree directed at Israeli plants with large markets in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.
Secret dialogue becomes core Netanyahu government foreign policy
Up until 10 months ago, Israel was extremely cagy about the existence of its dialogue with Saudi Arabia. But in a speech he delivered at the UN General Assembly on 29 September, 2014, Netanyahu hinted at these contacts and invited moderate Arab nations to update the 2002 Saudi peace proposal adopted by the Arab League, so as to bring it in line with current Middle East reality, namely the Syrian civil war and the wave of terror generated by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
“I believe that a fresh approach by our neighbors would foster the cause of peace,” he said.
DEBKA Weekly’s sources have learned that the prime minister spoke then on the strength of prior meetings between Saudi and Israeli officials, at which his emissaries offered to enter into negotiations with Riyadh on its 12-year old peace plan, while the Saudis agreed to introduce topical amendments.
In the latter half of 2014 and early this year, Netanyahu and Israeli politicians were up to their ears in electioneering and the subsequent formation of a new government.
But in April and again in May, the re-elected prime minister returned to the proposition that the future peace track must focus on fostering peace between Israel and the Sunni Arab nations, a prospect that was now feasible.
Under the new Netanyahu government, therefore, the secret Israeli-Saudi dialogue has been promoted to a core component of Israeli foreign policy.