JERUSALEM (VINnews) — The former head of the Mossad, Yossi Cohen, spoke at the INSS – Institute for National Security Studies – conference in Tel Aviv and sounded optimistic about the chances of reaching a historic peace agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
“Is normalization of Saudi Arabia with Israel possible? In my estimation, and this is based on personal knowledge of the subject, it is absolutely possible,” Cohen, who headed the Mossad from 2016 to 2021, said.
There has been several reports that US-brokered talks between Jerusalem and Riyadh on starting direct flights for Haj pilgrims from Israel are in advanced stages.
A flight deal could have the potential to lead to a wider normalization deal — which has long been sought by Israel but largely rejected by the Saudis.
In exchange for full normalization with Israel, Saudis are said to be demanding that the White House unfreeze some Trump-era weapons deals that were frozen when US President Joe Biden took office, and are also seeking a defense treaty with the US, similar to NATO, as well as the US stamp of approval for a civilian nuclear program.
A report last week on Israel’s Channel 12 report claimed that The US and Saudis are both seeking to pressure Israel into restarting diplomatic talks with the Palestinians that will lead to a “separation” as a precondition for normalization.
At the same INSS event, Foreign Ministry Director-General Ronen Levy said that, while ties with Riyadh are extremely important, “we must not dismiss other countries that have the potential for normalization before Saudi Arabia.”
He added that he hopes that there would deals reached with such states in the coming months.
Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi will travel to meet senior officials in Washington DC this week, according to a US media report.
Dermer and Hanegbi are expected to meet with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and other top-level officials from the White House and State Department to discuss the Iranian nuclear threat and peace prospects with Saudi Arabia, four Israeli and US officials told the Axios news site.
An official in the Prime Minister’s Office said dates have not been finalized, while a White House National Security Council spokesperson told the site that there was nothing to confirm.
Both Hanegbi and Dermer are close confidants of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has yet to receive an invitation from the US since establishing the current government, whose moves to reform the judiciary have met with severe criticism from the Biden administration.
Hanegbi denied that there had been any direct conversations between Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in recent months, but said a normalization deal was possible.
“There is in Saudi Arabia a leader that the world has never seen before, a man who took his country 180 degrees in a different direction, a bold and revolutionary leader,” Hanegbi said. “If he thinks that it is possible to reach normalization with Israel, it will happen. I believe there is a chance this will happen.”
In a historic move last year, Saudi Arabia announced that it opened its airspace to all civilian overflights, hours before Biden became the first US leader to directly fly from Israel to the Gulf nation.
Last week, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen touted the possibility of normalization with Saudi Arabia within six months, during an interview with Channel 12’s Meet the Press.
Cohen cited both countries joint interests — notably preventing Iran from creating a nuclear bomb — as a reason to be hopeful for a deal.
Despite Saudi Arabia’s renewal of ties with Iran, Israel’s senior foreign ministry officials believe it has not shut the door on normalization with Israel, and the US is pushing such a deal as a “national security interest.”
Netanyahu flew to Saudi Arabia in November 2020 to meet with bin Salman, the first publicly reported meeting between the two. Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have diplomatic relations, but clandestine ties have strengthened in recent years, due to the Iranian threat.