Israeli-Saudi relations: Top Israeli officials secretly visited Saudi Arabia

Revelation of past secret trips by Israeli officials to Saudi Arabia comes amid reports that the US is working on normalizing relations between the countries.

 Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (L) and Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Khalid Bin Salman await ahead of their meeting with the US Secretary of State at Irqah Palace in Riyadh on February 20, 2020.  (photo credit: ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (L) and Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Khalid Bin Salman await ahead of their meeting with the US Secretary of State at Irqah Palace in Riyadh on February 20, 2020.
(photo credit: ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

A number of senior Israeli officials have visited Saudi Arabia in recent years, including Defense Minister Benny Gantz and the past two heads of the Mossad, Israel Hayom revealed on Sunday.

Gantz made a visit to Saudi Arabia when he served as chief of staff of the IDF from 2012 to 2016. Other officials who visited Saudi Arabia include former Mossad chiefs Yossi Cohen and Tamir Pardo.

Israel’s ties with Saudi Arabia have received growing media attention in recent weeks ahead of a possible visit by US President Joe Biden to Saudi Arabia while he visits the Middle East in late June, a trip that will include a stop in Jerusalem.

The US is eyeing a possible deal involving the islands of Tiran and Sanafi on the edge of the Gulf of Aqaba – otherwise known as the Strait of Tehran – that could lower oil prices in the US and push forward normalization of ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The story about such a deal was first reported last week by Walla.

 Defense Minister Benny Gantz meets Wednesday evening with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan at the White House.  (credit: SHMULIK ALMANI) Defense Minister Benny Gantz meets Wednesday evening with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan at the White House. (credit: SHMULIK ALMANI)

Egypt, which has had possession of the islands, has already agreed to transfer them to Saudi Arabia, however, both Jerusalem and Washington have to sign off on the deal.

Israel captured the islands from Egypt during the Six Day War. They were part of the territory it ceded to Egypt in its 1979 peace deal in exchange for an international peacekeeping force backed by the US.

In another interesting development, Gantz visited Washington earlier this month for meetings with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. The meetings came less than a day after Sullivan and Austin met with Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid Bin Salman.

The timing of both meetings led to speculation that Israel was coordinating its next moves on Iran with the US and Saudi Arabia.

In November 2020, then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and then-US secretary of state Mike Pompeo in Neom, Saudi Arabia. It was the first time that Israeli officials confirmed such a visit.