DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The Trump administration has been trying to bring Israel and Saudi Arabia together in part to counter Iran. And this might be happening now. Israeli media says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met secretly with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the kingdom. Reports say Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also attended the meeting. Saudi Arabia, however, has denied that this meeting took place. So let's try to find out what happened here with NPR international correspondent Daniel Estrin, who is in Jerusalem. Daniel, good morning.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Good morning.
GREENE: So did this meeting happen or not?
ESTRIN: Well, multiple Israeli media outlets are reporting that it did, that Netanyahu flew with his Mossad spy chief to Saudi Arabia and met with Pompeo and with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It would be the first known meeting between Israeli and Saudi officials. Now, Pompeo announced that he did have a meeting with the Saudi crown prince yesterday in this high-tech city in Saudi Arabia called Neom. He did not say if Netanyahu was there. But there is an online flight tracker that tracked a private jet that flew yesterday from Tel Aviv to that city in Saudi Arabia.
GREENE: Flight trackers always tell the truth, at least where the planes are going. What are Saudi and Israeli officials saying about whether this happened or not?
ESTRIN: The Saudi foreign minister is flat out denying that any Israeli officials were at that meeting. Israeli officials, however, are being coy. They're not denying it. Netanyahu was asked about it. He smirked. And he said he wouldn't comment but that he has worked for many years to try to widen Israel's connections with Arab states. Two Israeli cabinet ministers did appear to confirm it. They may have just been commenting on the news reports. But Education Minister Yoav Gallant said on the radio that Netanyahu traveling to Saudi Arabia was a great achievement. And the Israeli defense minister, Benny Gantz, said it was irresponsible to publicize this secret meeting because Saudi Arabia and Israel have covert ties.
GREENE: Well, if this did happen, how significant is it?
ESTRIN: It would be very significant. As I said, this would be the first public known meeting between Israeli and Saudi officials. They have covert ties. But they are known to have one common goal, which is to act against Iran. They and the Trump administration see Iran as a top threat in the region. Pompeo has been pushing a maximum pressure campaign against Iran. So these leaders could have been coordinating their positions on Iran ahead of a Biden presidency if this meeting did take place - perhaps, coordinating actions against Iran as well that could make it harder for the Biden administration to reach out diplomatically to the Iranians.
The backdrop here, of course, is that Biden has said that he might reenter the Iran nuclear deal. And yesterday, Netanyahu gave a speech before this reported trip to Saudi Arabia. And he said we should not revive the Iran nuclear deal. And he said Israel's opposition to such a deal is what brings Israel and Arab countries close together. So maybe he was kind of hinting there about what he was up to yesterday.
GREENE: All right. Interesting developments. NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem.
Daniel, thanks, as always.
ESTRIN: You're welcome, David.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.