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Saudi, Israel on path to normalization as top Israeli official visits Riyadh: Report

File photo shows the interior of the Saudi Royal Palace.

A high-ranking Israeli official reportedly visited Saudi Arabia and met with a senior Saudi official this week, fueling speculation that the two sides could be taking reciprocal steps toward the “normalization” of their relations.

Israeli media reports on Friday said the official traveled to the Saudi capital and met inside the royal palace with a senior Saudi official.

Channel 12 interpreted the visit as a sign that relations between Riyadh and Tel Aviv are “warming up”.

According to the channel, the visit was meant to coordinate security cooperation between the two sides, among other things.

The channel's military commentator, Nir Dvori, said the visit was linked to the two sides’ mutual interest in leveling up their relations. 

“The final word may not have been said here as there are attempts to create more ties, and perhaps make things public; we will have to wait and see," he said.

In 2020, Israel’s then-premier Benjamin Netanyahu visited Riyadh and met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. 

The year saw Washington brokering “normalization” of relations between the Israeli regime and some Arab states including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Saudi Arabia’s key Arab allies in the region.

According to the commentator, the Israeli official’s recent visit also had to do with an upcoming trip by US President Joe Biden to the occupied Palestinian territories, as well as Saudi Arabia, where Biden and the Saudi prince could meet for the first time.

Meanwhile, Israeli premier Naftali Bennet’s advisor Eyal Hulata is expected to travel to the US next week, the Axios news website reported Friday.

Earlier this week, the news portal said two senior US officials visited Riyadh as the Biden administration is quietly mediating a Red Sea deal between Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Egypt, which could also pave the way for the normalization of ties between Riyadh and Tel Aviv.

The talks involve finalizing the transfer of two strategic islands—Tiran and Sanafir—in the Red Sea from Egyptian to Saudi sovereignty “with Israeli consent,” the website reported without elaborating on the Israeli role in the negotiations.

The website referred to Hulata as the Israeli point of contact as the White House meditates between the three sides.

“If successful, it could be a first step on the road to the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel,” the report claimed. “If an arrangement is reached, it would be a significant foreign policy achievement for the Biden administration in the Middle East.”

The two Red Sea islands featured in the Israeli-Egyptian agreement signed in 1979, which reportedly promises safe passage to Israeli civilian and military ships through the narrow waterways of the Straits of Tiran.

Saudi foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan was asked about the report on Tuesday during a World Economic Forum panel in Davos.

Without denying it, the top Saudi diplomat said more steps needed to be taken to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"We have always seen normalization as the end result for a path. Normalization between the region and Israel will bring benefits but we won’t be able to reap those benefits unless we are able to address the issue of Palestine," he was cited as saying.

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