Dozens of Israeli personalities in the business and technology sectors visit Saudi Arabia – the report

Dozens of Israeli entrepreneurs recently traveled to Saudi Arabia for advanced talks about Saudi investments in Israeli companies and investment funds, according to a report (in Hebrew) in the business newspaper Globes.

There are no formal diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, but secret relations have improved in recent years, with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reportedly seeing Israel as a strategic partner in the fight against Iranian influence in the region.

The kingdom refrained from signing the Washington-brokered Ibrahim Accord in 2020, as the United States and Israel had hoped, but Riyadh is believed to have given the green light to Bahrain, where it has decisive influence, to join the agreement. normalization with Israel along with the UAE, Morocco and Sudan. .

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Moreover, after the signing of the agreements, Saudi Arabia began to allow Israeli airlines to use its airspace for flights to and from the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. But Israel has not yet received such benefits for flights to India, Thailand and China, which as a result remain much longer than they should be.

Entrepreneurs and businessmen who visited Saudi Arabia recently entered the kingdom with Israeli passports containing special visas, the newspaper reported on Thursday.

Since then, a number of agreements, in the civilian and defense sectors, have been signed between Israelis and Saudis in European and other countries, including a multimillion-dollar agreement in the agricultural technology sector and a second agreement on Israeli water technology. solutions, the report says. Globes said that Kingdom officials closely followed the developments of these two agreements.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, speaking during the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Tuesday, December 14, 2021 (Bandar Al Jaloud / Saudi Royal Palace via AP)

The Saudis also expressed their interest in Israeli medical solutions and health technology, as well as in Israeli “products”, according to the report, without going into details.

The report comes weeks after news emerged that Saudi Arabia was planning to allocate millions of dollars to invest in Israeli technology companies through Jared Kushner’s new private equity firm.

Kushner, the son-in-law and former adviser to former US President Donald Trump, founded Affinity Partners late last year, raising about $ 3 billion in funding from international investors, including the Saudis.

In this August 13, 2020 photo, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner speaks at a press conference at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo / Andrew Harnik, File)

A Wall Street Journal report in early May said Riyadh was seeking to invest in two Israeli companies, although the names of the two companies, as well as the sectors in which they operate, were not disclosed. The report said the investment was “the first known example that Saudi Public Investment Fund money will be directed to Israel, as a sign of the kingdom ‘s growing willingness to do business with the country, despite the lack of diplomatic relations.”

According to a Globe report on Thursday, Israeli businessmen have been traveling to Saudi Arabia for months with special entry visas at the invitation of Saudi entities. They visited the capital, Riyadh, as well as the city of NEOM hgl’gm in the Red Sea, where the kingdom has big plans to integrate smart city technologies that could include Israeli solutions. NEOM is part of Saudi Arabia Vision 2030, a national plan for economic, social and cultural progress.

In late 2020, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, along with other Israeli officials and then-US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, reportedly visited the city. to meet the crown prince, in the first known high place. level meeting between an Israeli and Saudi leader.

An illustration of the planned city of NEOM in Saudi Arabia. (Neom.com)

Netanyahu and Cohen flew to Saudi Arabia on businessman Ehud Angel’s private jet – the same plane the then prime minister used on a secret visit to Oman in 2019, according to Kan.

Saudi sources said in a Globe report on Thursday that authorities had noticed an increase in local requests to host Israeli businessmen in the kingdom.

Two US officials in Riyadh
Separately, the Axios report said last week that two senior US officials traveled to Saudi Arabia for secret talks over an agreement that could strengthen Washington’s ties with Riyadh, bringing the kingdom closer to normalizing relations with Israel.

Axios, citing three current and former U.S. officials, reported that U.S. National Security Council coordinator for the Middle East Brett McGurk and State Department envoy for energy Amos Hochstein arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday for meetings with senior Saudi officials.

Tirana Island in the Red Sea, Egypt, February 10, 2017 (AP / Nariman El-Mofty)

Two days ago, Axios reported that the Biden administration was mediating talks aimed at ending the transfer of the Red Sea islands of Tirana and Sanafir from Egypt to Saudi Arabia.

In 2017, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ratified a treaty to hand over the islands to Saudi Arabia. The agreement resisted protests and legal challenges in Egypt, but was never finalized.

The two islands in the Red Sea are evident in the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement, which promises safe passage for Israeli military and civilian ships through the narrow waterways of the Tirana Strait.

View from Google Maps of the Tirana Strait with a peg that shows the location. (Screenshot / Google Maps)

As part of the 1979 agreement, Egypt agreed to demilitarize the two islands and allow a US-led multinational observer force to patrol. Thus, their transfer to Saudi Arabia requires a degree of Israeli acceptance to continue.

The Tirana Strait is Israel’s only offshore waterway from Eilat, allowing transportation to and from Africa and Asia without having to cross the Suez Canal, as well as to and from the Suez Canal.

However, Israel gave its initial approval for the transfer of the two islands, but set out an agreed solution regarding the multinational monitoring force, Axios reported, citing US and Israeli sources.

U.S. National Security Council Coordinator for the Middle East Brett McGurk and State Department envoy for energy Amos Hochstein. (AFP / photomontage)

The report said the multinational group had turned into a major stumbling block in the talks, with Riyadh agreeing to keep the two islands demilitarized, while so far refusing such a force on its soil. Instead, Riyadh offered a commitment to maintain full freedom of navigation for ships through the Tirana Strait.

According to the report, Israeli negotiators showed a willingness to give up the multinational force, but demanded alternative security agreements.

Israel is also urging Saudi Arabia to take a series of steps to normalize relations with the Jewish state – that is, to allow additional Israeli flights to use Saudi airspace and to allow direct flights between Israel and Saudi Arabia, in so that Muslims can easily travel to the holy cities. of Mecca and Medina from Ben Gurion Airport.

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