A day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reported trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel’s health ministry added the kingdom to its list of coronavirus “green” countries, exempting returning travellers from quarantine, an international news agency reported on Tuesday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to reports, secretly met Saudi Arabia’s crown prince in the kingdom on Sunday, in their first known meeting and amid a U.S. push to normalize ties between the longtime foes.
Saudi Arabia has denied the meeting took place, but Israel hasn’t.
Soon after the reported visit, the Israeli health ministry on Tuesday confirmed that Saudi Arabia had been added to the safe list a day earlier, but dismissed any link to Netanyahu’s reported visit to the futuristic Red Sea city of Neom on Sunday, AFP reported.
“The process is very simple and it happens once every two weeks,” health ministry director general Hezi Levi told public broadcaster Kan on Tuesday morning, the agency said.
“On the previous list, Saudi Arabia was red,” he said. “The morbidity rates decreased. It’s now green. “It has nothing to do with anyone’s visit to any country.”
Israeli media reported that Netanyahu travelled to Neom for landmark talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, which has no official diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.
There has been unconfirmed speculation that Saudi Arabia might be seeking to become the latest Arab state to normalise ties with Israel.
The AFP report quoting an Israeli government source confirmed the talks, which Riyadh firmly denied on Monday, and the kingdom has publicly said it will not establish diplomatic relations with Israel until the Palestinian conflict is resolved.
Had Saudi Arabia not been on Israel’s coronavirus green list, Netanyahu and his staff would technically been compelled to quarantine for 14 days upon return.
Another country turned “green” in the ministry’s latest listing was Bahrain, which along with its Gulf ally the United Arab Emirates have established ties with Israel, only the third and fourth Arab nations to do so.
On Tuesday, Netanyahu announced he had spoken with Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa and accepted an invitation to conduct “an official visit to Bahrain soon”.