An Israeli cabinet minister has indicated that Israel has had secret contacts with Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries over their mutual concerns about Iran, an apparent first acknowledgment by a senior official about covert dealings.
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz made the comments on November 19 during an interview with Israel’s Army Radio, but he did not specify the nature of contacts.
"We have ties that are indeed partly covert with many Muslim and Arab countries, and usually [we are] the party that is not ashamed,” Steinitz said.
"It's the other side that is interested in keeping the ties quiet. With us, usually, there is no problem, but we respect the other side's wish, when ties are developing, whether it's with Saudi Arabia or with other Arab countries or other Muslim countries, and there is much more...[but] we keep it secret."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Saudi government also has not commented on Steinitz’s remarks.
Israel and Saudi Arabia both view Iran as the main threat to their security in the Middle East.
Tensions have recently escalated between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite-led Iran, with the countries on rival sides of bloody conflicts in Yemen and Syria and in an escalating political crisis in Lebanon.
Still, Saudi Arabia and Israel are on opposing sides of the decadeslong Arab-Israeli conflict and do not have diplomatic relations.
Riyadh has stated that official relations with Israel are impossible unless the Israelis withdraw from Arab territory captured in the 1967 Middle East war, lands Palestinians seek for their future state.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told Reuters on November 16 that "we have always said that if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved on the basis of the Arab peace initiative that Israel would have enjoyed normal relations, economic, political, diplomatic relations with all of the Arab countries.
“And so until that happens, we don't have relations with Israel," he added.