Saudi Arabia's bridge to Africa 'will require Israeli approval'
A key element of Saudi Arabia's ambitious $500 billion plan to establish a business and industrial zone stretching into Egypt and Jordan will require Israeli approval, according to a report published on Wednesday.
The proposal, which is the largest project so far to be announced as part of the country's economic transformation, includes the construction of a bridge over the Red Sea Straits of Tiran.
The straits are currently controlled by Israel, in line with the North African country's 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
US financial media outlet Bloomberg quoted Yoram Meital, chairman of the Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies & Diplomacy at Israel's Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, as saying that because of the bridge's location, "Israel's involvement in the project is crucial".
"There couldn't be anything close to this unless Israel and the Saudis had the opportunity to discuss in detail their relations and this bridge," Meital said. "There have to have been back channels."
A request for a comment from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office was met with no response, according to Bloomberg.
With Israeli-controlled territory featuring in the plans for the proposed bridge, the announcement of the 'NEOM' industrial zone by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman may fuel speculation that Riyadh is growing increasingly closer to Tel Aviv.
Last week, Saudi Arabia spoke out to deny allegations that any of its officials had conducted a secret diplomatic trip to Israel.
The statement followed a report by Israeli media claiming that an unidentified Saudi prince, widely speculated to be Crown Prince Mohammad, had visited Israel to discuss peace.
Such speculation comes amid increasing reports that Gulf Arab states normalising relations with Israel.
Last month, a rumour emergeed that the Bahrain's king had "grown tired" of the Arab boycott of Israel.
Netanyahu did little to allay ongoing speculation when he recently confirmed that Israel was enjoying the "greatest relations ever" with the Arab world, even without a peace accord with Palestinians.
Crown Prince Mohammad, who is seen as the architect of Saudi Arabia's recent major foreign policy decisions, has pursued a diplomatic strategy that has alienated some of Saudi Arabia's former allies.
In June, Saudi Arabia cut ties with Qatar, accusing the fellow GCC member of supporting terrorism and cozying up to Iran.
Riyadh's focus on containing Iranian influence has brought it closer in line with Israel, which also views Tehran as the major threat to regional stability.