Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has reportedly cancelled a planned visit to Washington to meet Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu amid fears that the news of his trip has been leaked.
Citing an informed top Saudi source, the Middle East Eye (MEE) news portal reported that bin Salman was expected to arrive in the US on August 31 after the end of the Republican Convention.
The report said four houses had been purchased at a secret location just for bin Salman’s stay as he did not want to stay in the embassy or the ambassador’s residence, which are known locations to attract demonstrations against the heir to the Saudi throne.
Bin Salman’s advisers had calculated that the crown prince's opponents in US Congress would have no time to prepare statements and that campaigners for the murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and lawyers acting for ex-intelligence official Saad al-Jabri would have no time to prepare legal actions.
However, the report added, the heir to the Saudi throne cancelled the visit after he received reports that it had been leaked.
“His bottom-line condition with the White House was that the visit should go ahead in total secrecy and that his presence in the capital would only be known once the event itself was taking place,” it said.
US President Donald Trump and his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, who were pushing for the meeting to take place, saw the prospect of a handshake between Netanyahu and bin Salman as a way to shore up regional support for the US-brokered normalization deal between the UAE and Israel.
“MBS was going to Washington on 31 August. It was fixed. It was meant to be to do something big related to Israel. What exactly was still under discussion,” said the Saudi source, who was speaking on condition of confidentiality.
"The meeting itself with Netanyahu would either have been private or in front of the cameras. Either way it was meant to be a big thing. It was not expected to be full announcement of normalization of relations, but giving a hint he is going in that direction."
He further noted that other announcements, possibly from Bahrain, were expected to coincide with the crown prince’s presence in Washington.
The initiative for the handshake on this occasion came from the US side. However the crown prince had one condition: that the visit be kept secret until he was in Washington, the source said.
"His advisers told him that if the visit were leaked, the CIA, Congress, journalists, campaigners for Khashoggi and lawyers for Jabri would all have time to launch a massive negative campaign against him and his presence in Washington would become a nightmare.
"MBS was calculating that if he suddenly appears with Netanyahu the big event would be enough to re-launch his image as a peacemaker,” the source pointed out.
In a joint statement issued by the White House on August 13, Israel and the UAE announced that they had “agreed to the full normalization of relations.”
Delegations from Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi are expected to sign bilateral agreements regarding investment, tourism, direct flights, security and the establishment of reciprocal embassies.
All Palestinian factions have unanimously condemned the UAE-Israel deal, describing it as a stab in the back of the oppressed nation.
Senior Saudi princes have distanced themselves publicly from the normalization agreement between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi.
In an interview with CNBC, Kushner said it was inevitable that the Riyadh regime would follow the UAE’s suit in forging ties with Israel.
"I do think that we have other countries that are very interested in moving forward," he added. "And then, as that progresses, I do think it is an inevitability that Saudi Arabia and Israel will have fully normalized relations.”