Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited Israel several times in recent times, Middle East publications have reported. Observers in the region believe secret parleys have been going on between Israel and Saudi Arabia, but there has been no confirmed high level visits so far.

The news of the alleged secret meetings was reported by Lebanon's Al Mayadeen TV, which spoke to a former Israeli security official. The Israeli official spoke to the Lebanese channel on condition of anonymity.

"Foreign reports indicate that Mohammed bin Salman has enjoyed the Tel Aviv sunshine several times," the former Shin Bet official told the TV channel, Iran's Press TV reported.

Saudi Arabian Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman
Saudi Arabian Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman Reuters

Iran is an arch foe of Saudi Arabia, and Tehran had fiercely criticized the recent peace agreements Israel thrashed out with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

The publication also claims that Bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, had travelled to Tel Aviv in October 2017 and held discussions with senior Israeli officials.

Saudi Arabia has been less strident in its criticism of Israel than Iran and Turkey, with whom it's engaged in a war of one-upmanship in the Muslim world. Any contact with Israel, let alone a full restoration of diplomatic relations, will be hard for Saudi Arabia to explain to its domestic constituency. Normalizing ties with Tel Aviv would be seen as the final betrayal of Palestine cause within Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is the custodian of the two holy mosques of the Muslims, a position it has tried to leverage as it wrestles with Iran to assume the Islamic world's leadership. Though Riyadh's staunch allies UAE and Bahrain have established diplomatic relations with Israel under a US-brokered deal, it would not be easy for Saudi Arabia to follow in their footsteps.

Israel-UAE Peace Deal
Donald Trump was nominated for his efforts in brokering the peace deal between Israel and the UAE Wikimedia Commons

However, international observers believe the UAE and Bahrain would not have gone ahead with such a deal under President Donald Trump's auspices without tacit support from Riyadh. Some even think that Saudi Arabia is testing waters and gauging domestic reaction to the UAE move and will, in due course, take steps to normalize ties with Israel.

Iran sees the Arab world's friendship with Israel as a direct threat. The Press TV report suggests that Riyadh's cozying up to Tel Aviv will foment trouble on the Arab street, where anti-Israel sentiment runs high. "A confirmed visit by an official as high-ranking as bin Salman takes the matter to a completely new and potentially explosive level as anti-Israeli sentiments continue to be high on the Arab street," the report says.