Israel's Bank Leumi interested in Saudi investments

The presence of Bank Leumi at the kingdom's flagship investment event suggested this marked another gesture by Riyadh towards warmer ties with Israel

 Flags of Saudi Arabia and Israel stand together in a kitchen staging area as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken holds meetings at the State Department in Washington, US, October 14, 2021.  (photo credit: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST/POOL)
Flags of Saudi Arabia and Israel stand together in a kitchen staging area as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken holds meetings at the State Department in Washington, US, October 14, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST/POOL)

Israel's Bank Leumi would like to tap into investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia, Chairman Samer Haj Yehia told a business forum in Riyadh, which he is attending in the latest sign of a potential thawing in Saudi-Israeli relations.

The presence of Bank Leumi, one of Israel's two largest banks, at the kingdom's flagship investment event suggested this marked another gesture by Riyadh towards warmer ties with Israel after fellow Gulf states the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain forged ties with Israel in 2020, with Saudi blessings.

"We can see that there's a lot of investment going on, and we want to tap into that kind of investment, whether it's on the payment side or on the retail side or on the cryptocurrency side," Haj Yehia told a panel at the FII forum on Thursday.

Haj Yehia, the first Arab Israeli to serve as Leumi's chairman, declined to comment further when approached by Reuters.

Israelis walk past a branch of Bank Leumi in Tel Aviv (credit: REUTERS/GIL COHEN MAGEN)Israelis walk past a branch of Bank Leumi in Tel Aviv (credit: REUTERS/GIL COHEN MAGEN)

Saudi ties and Israeli economic cooperation in the Gulf

Riyadh has said it will not normalize ties with Israel in the absence of a resolution to Palestinian statehood goals but made some overtures earlier this year including opening its airspace to all airlines, including Israeli carriers.

The Future Investment Initiative (FII) is a showcase for the Saudi crown prince's drive to modernize the Gulf Arab state, wean its economy off oil revenues and attract foreign capital.

In 2020, Bank Leumi signed memorandums of understanding with two leading banks in the United Arab Emirates - First Abu Dhabi Bank and Emirates NBD.