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Israel, Saudi officials differ on covert contacts

By
Allen Cone
An Iranian woman holds a cartoon of U.S. President Donald trump standing between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and King Salman of Saudi Arabia during a rally in Tehran, Iran, on June 23. File Photo by Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA
An Iranian woman holds a cartoon of U.S. President Donald trump standing between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and King Salman of Saudi Arabia during a rally in Tehran, Iran, on June 23. File Photo by Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA

Nov. 20 (UPI) -- An Israeli minister said his nation and Saudi Arabia have been in covert contact, an assertion disputed by an official in the Arab state.

Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have formal diplomatic relations but Yuval Steinitz, Israel's energy minister, said Sunday there has been contact.

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"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."

Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, disputed those comments.

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"There are no ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel," Jubeir told Egyptian media.

He says relations between Israel and Arab states would be normalized through the Arab Peace Initiative. Saudi Arabia wants Israel to withdrawal from Arab lands captured in the 1967 Middle East war for land for a Palestinian state.

Irael's top military commander, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, said in an unprecedented interview to a Saudi newspaper last week that Israel has offered to share intelligence against Iran.

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In September, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said cooperation exists "in various ways and different levels."

Both countries oppose Hezbollah, the militant Shiite movement based in Lebanon.

Jerusalem has said that Hezbollah is amassing weapons in southern Lebanon and Riyadh accuses Hezbollah of helping rebels in Yemen launch missiles into Saudi Arabia.

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In October, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah criticized the policies of Israel and Saudi Arabia.

He said that Israel's government is "leading your nation to destruction."

And he told "rulers of Saudi Arabia that the separation between the Kurds and Iraq will reach Saudi Arabia later on, and it shall be divided."

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Lebanon's President Michael Aoun, an ally of Hezbollah, said last week that Saudi Arabia has detained Prime Minister Saad Hariri since his resignation in Riyadh on Nov. 4.

U.S. President Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia and Israel in May.

Trump told Israelis that he found the Saudi leadership to be "very positive" toward Israel after his visit to Riyadh.

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