Israel hopes Biden trip will hail start of Saudi ties
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Israel hopes US President Joe Biden's Middle East tour will hail the start of diplomatic ties between the country and Saudi Arabia, a senior Israeli official said Tuesday.
The US president will arrive in Tel Aviv on Wednesday for talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials, before travelling onwards to Saudi Arabia -- which does not recognise the Jewish state.
"The fact that President Biden visits Israel and from here will fly directly to Saudi Arabia encapsulates a lot of the dynamics that have been evolving over the last months," a senior Israeli official told journalists, requesting anonymity.
"We are hoping and acting so that the steps that we are taking now will only be the beginning, and that will be the start of the process of normalisation," he added.
Israel expanded its regional reach with US backing in 2020, when it formalised ties with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco.
In January 2021, Sudan's transitional government also agreed to do so, but Khartoum has yet to finalise the deal.
Such diplomatic breakthroughs came decades after Israel's peace accord with Jordan, in 1994, and the 1979 agreement with Egypt.
Amid the normalisation deals with Arab nations, Israeli media reported then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu travelled to Saudi Arabia for secret talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid has declined to be drawn on direct talks with the Saudis.
"Like any other country in the region we have mutual interest that has to do with Iran, and that is to make sure that Iran does not become a nuclear threshold country," Lapid said last month as foreign minister, before being appointed premier.
"Eventually what we want to have is a peace agreement with Saudi Arabia, as we want we every other country in the region," he added.
In recent weeks, Israeli officials have hinted that Biden could announce initiatives related to Israel during his visit to the Gulf kingdom.
The fate of two Red Sea islands which can be used to control access to the Israeli port of Eilat could be on the table.
Under the terms of the 1979 peace accord, Israel must sign off on Egypt's plans to hand the islands over to Saudi Arabia in exchange for financial support.
Direct flights between Israel and Saudi Arabia could also be on the agenda, including in order to facilitate pilgrimages for Muslims to the holy city of Makkah.