• Follows Netanyahu remark that ties with Arab world best ever

  • Minister declined to say if Israeli leader met Gulf official

A Gulf Arab political figure visited Israel last week, an Israeli cabinet minister said, reinforcing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent claim that relations with Arab states have never been better.

Netanyahu’s Sept. 6 remark set off chatter in both Israeli and Arab media that the prime minister had met with a high-ranking official from the Gulf. While Netanyahu’s office declined to comment on the reports, Communications Minister Ayoob Kara confirmed in an interview that he himself had met with an unidentified Gulf dignitary in Israel last week.

Kara, a member of the Druze community, is the only Arab member of Netanyahu’s cabinet and has for years acted as the prime minister’s representative in meetings with Gulf figures. Before he was appointed communications minister, Kara served as deputy minister for regional cooperation, which led him to travel widely in the region.

“I met with a important person from a Gulf country and that’s all I can say about it,” Kara said in a phone interview. He wouldn’t disclose the visitor’s identity or say whether Netanyahu was present.

Netanyahu has frequently said that Gulf Arab states no longer shun Israel, due to a shared interest in containing Iran and a desire to buy Israeli technology. Last week, he told Foreign Ministry employees that Israel has made a “breakthrough” with Arab states. Although the cooperation remains largely secret, “what is not yet out in the open is much greater than in any other period in Israeli history,” he said.

Egypt and Jordan are the only Arab states that have established diplomatic relations with Israel. While several Gulf countries including Qatar and Oman established low-level official ties with Israel in the past, they unraveled over Israel’s conflicts with the Palestinians. For decades, though, Israeli companies have had trade relationships with Saudi firms, mostly carried out through third parties to disguise their Israeli origins.

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