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October 5, 2023 8:26 am

Israel’s Gantz Holds Quiet Talks in Washington Amid Saudi Deal Efforts

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avatar by i24 News and Algemeiner Staff

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and former Israeli Minister of Defense Benny Gantz. Photo:
Shmulik Almany / Israeli Ministry of Defense

i24 News — The leader of Israel’s opposition National Unity Party, Benny Gantz, made an unannounced visit to Washington, DC on Wednesday to engage in discreet discussions with top White House officials.

Gantz’s visit comes as the United States attempts to facilitate a historic normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

During his trip, Gantz met with White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, as well as other senior US officials, according to sources cited by the Walla news site. While the visit was not initially publicized by Gantz’s office, his party later confirmed both the visit and the meeting with Sullivan.

Discussions during the meeting centered on advancing Israel’s vital security interests, enhancing its integration within the region, and addressing threats posed by Iran and its proxies in the Middle East, the National Unity Party reported.

Gantz, a former defense minister and Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff, is a prominent figure in Israel’s opposition. His visit to Washington follows opposition leader Yair Lapid’s trip to the US capital last month, during which Lapid engaged with Biden administration officials and senators to discuss the potential Saudi-Israeli agreement and other related matters.

This visit is part of a broader US effort to broker a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, a development that would mark a significant milestone in Israel’s Middle East relationships. Saudi Arabia has never officially recognized Israel and has consistently asserted that recognition would only come as part of a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The White House recently announced that Saudi and Israeli negotiators have been making progress toward the outline of a potential deal. Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have expressed optimism regarding the ongoing negotiations.

Gantz’s visit to Washington comes amidst a concerted US push for a comprehensive package deal involving Saudi Arabia, which may also include Israeli concessions to the Palestinians. The Biden administration is seeking broad support for this initiative within the Israeli political landscape, including from the opposition.

While Gantz has affirmed that his party would vote in favor of an agreement with Saudi Arabia, he has made it clear that his party will not join the government coalition.

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