A growing number of Israelis have visited Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf Arab states and Egypt since the beginning of the year, pointing to the behind-the-scenes ties between Israel and certain Arab countries, which publicly pose as Tel Aviv’s traditional adversaries.
The Israel Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) announced earlier this week that some 234,600 Israelis, whose ultimate destinations were Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf Arab states, had passed through the overland crossings to Jordan between January and July.
The CBS statics amount to a 9.3-percent increase compared to the same period last year.
The figures further disclose that some 99,200 Israelis traveled to Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula through the Taba border crossing in the same period, marking a rather dramatic increase of 44.9 percent compared to the seven-month period the previous year.
The numbers come as a Saudi delegation, headed by Anwar Eshki, a former military general, paid a visit to Israel last month.
Eshki, who currently heads the Saudi Institute for Strategic Studies, met Israel’s foreign ministry director general, Dore Gold, and Yoav Mordechai, who coordinates the Israeli regime’s activities in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The Israeli daily Haaretz described the visit as “a highly unusual one,” noting that Eshki and his entourage could not have traveled to Israel without the ruling Al Saud family’s approval.
Speaking in an interview with the Doha-based Arabic-language Al Jazeera news network in April, Eshki said Riyadh would open an embassy in Tel Aviv if Israel accepted the so-called Arab Peace Initiative and withdrew from the occupied Palestinian lands. The Saudi-brokered proposal, which was unveiled in 2002, offers to normalize ties with Israel by 22 Arab countries in return for Tel Aviv’s withdrawal from the occupied West Bank.
He also said the Saudis were not interested in “Israel becoming isolated in the region.”
Saudi Arabia and Israel have no official relations and the kingdom prohibits its citizens from traveling to Israel. However, there has been no dearth of news about a rise in engagement between the two sides under the new Saudi rulers.
Back in May, Israeli newspaper Arutz Sheva reported that Saudi Arabia and some of its regional allies, namely Jordan and Egypt, had been in contact with the Israeli regime through various channels, including the former British prime minister and the former envoy of the Middle East Quartet, Tony Blair.
They had reportedly asked Tel Aviv to resume the so-called Middle East peace negotiations under new terms, which included changes to the Saudi-proposed initiative.
In late July, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed warming ties with Egypt and its President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who ousted the country’s first democratically-elected president, Mohamed Morsi, in 2013.
Netanyahu also hailed the Egypt-Israel peace treaty of 1979 — the first between an Arab state and Israel at the time — calling it an “anchor of stability and security” in the region.
Relations between Cairo and Tel Aviv have been growing since Sisi took power in 2014, months after he spearheaded a coup that overthrew Morsi.