The Sunday night trip, if confirmed, would mark an extremely rare high-level meeting between the long-time foes, one that Israel has been pushing for in its efforts for regional acceptance. Hebrew-language reports, citing unnamed Israeli officials, said Netanyahu was accompanied by Yossi Cohen, the head of the country’s Mossad spy agency.
However, flight tracking data showed a private jet previously used by Netanyahu took off from Tel Aviv to Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Neom, where Prince Mohammed and Pompeo had a scheduled meeting, on Sunday night. The aircraft remained in the city for a few hours before returning to Israel.
Gantz had on Sunday appointed a committee to investigate the government’s controversial £1.5bn purchase of German submarines. Several associates of the prime minister, including his cousin, have been named as suspects in an ongoing investigation, known as Case 3,000, although Netanyahu is not a suspect and denies wrongdoing.
Separately, one of the prime minister’s social media aides, Topaz Luk, appeared to hint at the Saudi meeting by tweeting that Netanyahu was “making peace” while his former domestic rival, Benny Gantz, was “doing politics”.
The committee could look into allegations that Netanyahu behaved improperly and had conflicts of interest. Israel’s longest-serving leader is already battling three other corruption cases in court, on charges he denies.
Gantz left opposition this year to become defence minister in a Netanyahu-led coalition, but their partnership has been beset by infighting. Despite their differences, Gantz has supported Washington-brokered “peace” deals made by Netanyahu with two other Gulf states, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
While a similar deal with the regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia remains out of reach, Sunday’s trip in itself would mark a serious diplomatic win for Israel. While the country shares a common enemy in Iran with Saudia Arabia and other Arab states, the continued occupation over Palestinians has left Israel isolated in the Middle East.
The Trump administration, which is close to Netanyahu, has made efforts in its final weeks to boost the hardline Israeli government, both with diplomatic and symbolic gestures.
Earlier on his trip, Pompeo became the first top US diplomat to officially visit an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, a clear nod to the nationalist settler movement that has taken land in the occupied Palestinian territories.