Secret meetings: Gantz, Bennett talk Saudi normalization with US

Senior Biden administration official reportedly met with Gantz and Bennett to discuss security concerns around Saudi normalization agreement.

By World Israel News Staff

Officials from the Biden administration recently held secret, closed-door meetings with National Unity party head Benny Gantz and former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to discuss a potential normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia, according to Hebrew-language reports on Tuesday.

United States Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf reportedly sat down with Gantz and Bennett in recent days, in order to gauge support levels for the deal outside of the coalition parties.

Leaf’s choice to meet with Bennett is significant, as the one-time premier has retired from politics and is no longer publicly involved in shaping policy nor heading any political party.

Notably, both Gantz and Bennett refused to either confirm or deny if the meetings had taken place.

According to Channel 12 News, Gantz and Bennett voiced their support for the deal, albeit along with their concerns regarding a Saudi condition that the Gulf Kingdom be permitted to establish its own civilian nuclear program, including uranium enrichment.

The State Department declined to comment on the report, but the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem said that Leaf regularly meets with Israeli officials to discuss “a variety of regional and bilateral issues.”

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Leaf is also thought to have briefly met with Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, who has been vocal about his disapproval of the deal.

“I oppose any agreement that includes uranium enrichment in Saudi Arabia. The deal at the moment endangers Israel’s security and the region. It is forbidden to give Saudi Arabia any level of uranium enrichment,” Lapid reportedly told American lawmakers in August.

Speaking to Channel 12 News last month, Lapid stressed that he “has no problem with a civilian nuclear program. There are Middle Eastern countries that have civilian nuclear programs. What they don’t have is uranium enrichment on their soil.

“This is what is on the table now and it cannot be allowed to be on the table. Israel can’t agree to uranium enrichment in Saudi Arabia, because it endangers Israel’s security.