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Israeli-Saudi normalization efforts top Ronen Levy's agenda in Washington

An Israeli diplomatic source told Al-Monitor on Tuesday that "the key to an Israeli-Saudi agreement lies in Washington... it is on President Biden's desk and not buried deep in a side drawer.”
S President Joe Biden (3-L) takes part in a working session with the Saudi crown prince (not pictured) at the Al-Salam Royal Palace in the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah, on July 15, 2022. - US President Joe Biden landed in Saudi Arabia, sealing a retreat from his campaign pledge to turn the kingdom into a "pariah" over its human rights record (Photo by Mandel NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

The director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Ronen Levy, met on Wednesday in Washington with senior Biden administration officials, in an effort to expand the Abraham Accords regional peace circle to Saudi Arabia and possibly other nations.

Levy's visit, which started on Tuesday, included meetings at the White House, State Department and Congress.

‘’A very productive discussion at the State Department with [presidential envoy on energy security] Amos Hochstein and at the National Security Council with [Deputy National security Adviser] Jon Finer, [White House Middle East Coordinator] Brett McGurk and [White House senior director on Africa] Judd Devermont,’’ tweeted Levy after his Washington meetings.

McGurk-Hochstein diplomacy

An Israeli diplomatic source on Tuesday confirmed Levy’s arrival in Washington to Al-Monitor, and described the meetings as a work visit, following up on continuous contacts between Israel and the Biden administration over efforts to expand the Abraham Accords. 

"Together with Ambassador Mike Herzog, we discussed the current dynamics in the greater Middle East and Africa, as well as how we can continue to work together on deepening and expanding the circle oof peace on the region," Levy added on Twitter. 

Hochstein and McGurk traveled to Jeddah on May 7 with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan for talks with Saudi senior officials and for a four-way meeting with the national security advisers of India and the United Arab Emirates. That meeting focused on a regional infrastructure project to link Gulf countries by rail and then link to India by ship. Israel, which was not invited to Jeddah, is also interested in joining the project. Hochstein and McGurk traveled to Jerusalem right after their visit to Jeddah, and updated Netanyahu on the talks. 

A May 3 report in the Times of Israel revealed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had blocked Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and perhaps also other ministers, from traveling to Washington before Netanyahu himself was invited to the White House, but this ban does not apply to senior officials such as Levy. 



Parallel to Levy’s tweet, Axios published on Wednesday that the White House is planning to deploy special diplomatic efforts in the coming six to seven months to push an Israeli-Saudi peace deal. The report cited two senior American officials saying that the administration would like to see such a deal inked before the end of the year, before the US election campaign takes over the agenda of President Joe Biden.

The Axios report referred to the May 7 meeting of Sullivan, Hochstein and McGurk with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah. 

According to American sources cited in the Axios report, the crown prince said Riyadh is currently not interested in incremental steps toward closer relations with Israel, but is rather interested in working with the Biden administration on a package normalization deal that will include stronger security cooperation between the US and Saudi Arabia.

The Axios story comes one day after Al-Monitor reported on Tuesday that Israel is cautiously optimistic on normalization with Saudi Arabia. An Israeli diplomatic source told Al-Monitor that "the key to an Israeli-Saudi agreement lies in Washington, and contrary to what people presume, it is on President Biden's desk and not buried deep in a side drawer.” 

Before his appointment as director general of the foreign ministry, veteran Shin Bet official Levy served on Israel’s National Security Council. In this position, he played a key role in promoting diplomatic ties with Chad and with Sudan. The final stage of normalization with Sudan has been delayed because of the country's instability. In parallel, the foreign ministry has been exploring possibilities for normalizing ties with other African countries. As such, the participation in Levy’s Washington meetings of Devermont, Biden’s Africa specialist, is significant.

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