In unmistakable sign of warming ties, second Israeli minister to visit Riyadh

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi is scheduled to attend a global conference of the Universal Postal Union in Saudi Arabia.

By Etgar Lefkovits, JNS

Israeli Communication Minister Shlomo Karhi is scheduled to travel to Saudi Arabia next week, the second visit by an Israeli minister to the Gulf Kingdom in as many weeks, Israeli officials said on Thursday.

The back-to-back ministerial trips to Riyadh are the latest indication that a normalization deal between the two countries, seen as increasingly likely in the coming months, is indeed in the offing.

The communications minister, a Likud Party Knesset member and close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is to attend a global conference of the Universal Postal Union in Riyadh, which he is slated to address.

Karhi, who is to be accompanied on the trip by fellow Likud MK David Bitan, the chair of the Knesset Economic Committee, is also expected to hold bilateral meetings with his Saudi colleagues during his trip.

Sukkah in Saudi Arabia?

Saudi officials have even tried to make special arrangements for Karhi, who is religious and will be traveling to Saudi Arabia over the week-long Jewish holiday of Sukkot, when observant Jews eat and even sleep in temporary outdoor booths known as sukkahs.

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Communications corridor

His visit comes just months after news that a communications corridor connecting Asian and Arab countries with Europe and the West through Israel is expected to be constructed in cooperation with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, in the latest sign of growing regional ties.

The proposal, which is expected to be signed in the coming months, will see the laying of fiber-optic cables along the 250-kilometer (155 mile) Europe Asia Pipeline Co. (EAPC) pipeline between Eilat and Ashkelon, while two-way underwater cables will be affixed between foreign countries and Israel.

Karhi’s visit also comes on the heels of the first-ever official visit to Saudi Arabia by an Israeli minister, Tourism Minister Haim Katz, who arrived in Riyadh this week for a gathering of the UN World Tourism Organization.

Home to Islam’s two holiest shrines, the Gulf Kingdom is a Middle East powerhouse, with a future peace accord with Israel seen as effectively ending the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said last week that peace with Israel is “getting closer by the day.”