Intelligence Affairs Minister Yisrael Katz told Saudi Arabian media that Israel will act to prevent an Iranian military presence in Lebanon on Wednesday, and invited Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to visit Israel.
Katz confirmed to Haaretz that he extended the invitation in an interview to the Saudi online newspaper Elaph, however, the online publication chose to edit the invitation out.
Saudi Arabia does not have official diplomatic ties with Israel.
Describing Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Arab world, Katz proposed that the kingdom would be a sponsor of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Katz added that Israel would be happy to participate in such negotiations.
Katz said Israel is aware that Iran has been building weapons plants in Lebanon. "We have information that Iran is building advanced missile plants in Lebanon, and I want to emphasize that we have drawn a new red line, and we will not allow them to do this at any cost."
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Asked by his interviewer whether Israel views the visit of an Iraqi militia leader to south of Lebanon as an Iranian attempt to send a message to Israel, Katz said Iran doesn't need to send a message, adding that Israel knows exactly what the Iranians are doing in the region. When his interviewer asked whether Israel could bomb the missile plants in Lebanon, Katz replied: "Yes. We will also act militarily and prevent them, as is happening in Syria."
"The more accurate that Hezbollah's missiles get, the stronger and wider Israel's strike will be. This time, all of Lebanon will be a target."
Referring to the Second Lebanon War that Israel fought against Hezbollah in 2006, Katz added: "What happened in 2006 will be a picnic compared to what we can do. I remember a Saudi minister saying they will send Hezbollah back to their caves in south Lebanon. I am telling you that we will return Lebanon to the Stone Age."
"At the same time, we don’t want war, and we have no interest in destroying Lebanon, but we will not accept a Lebanese assault on us. For example, I recently suggested to Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu that we act militarily and economically to implement [United Nations Security Council Resolution] 1701 that was adopted unanimously after the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and that we apply sanctions on Hezbollah and Iran and that, under the leadership of the United States and with the consent of China and Russia, we intervene militarily if there is a need."
Katz continued: "The prime minister spoke about this with French President [Emmanuel] Macron and with the European Union. This is a decision that was taken unambiguously, and instead of adopting new resolutions, we will invoke this to deprive Hezbollah of its weapons. The Arab League considers Hezbollah as a terrorist organization as does Saudi Arabia [as does] Egypt and Jordan. The entire world. And in my view, this is a particularly excellent opportunity following [Lebanese Prime Minister] Saad Hariri's decision and his resignation from Saudi Arabia," a decision that Hariri has since retracted. "In practice, he pulled the rug out from under Hezbollah and Iran," Katz said.
Also on Wednesday, Saudi Arabia's King Salman commented on U.S. President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, saying that the Palestinians have a right to East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Salman made his comments as Arab and Muslim leaders gathered in Istanbul to discuss Trump's decision.
King Salman appointed his son, 32-year-old Mohammad bin Salman, also known by his initials MBS, as Saudi Arabia's heir to the throne in June. Many expect that in the not-too-distant future, King Salman, who is elderly and ill, will step down and hand the scepter to bin Salman.
The prince's firm anti-Iranian position makes him an important partner to the U.S. and Israel. Several Arab websites have reported in the past few years that bin Salman has met with several top Israelis.
According to these reports, one such meeting took place in Eilat in 2015; another on the margins of the Arab summit in Jordan this March, and there are regular meetings between Saudi and Israeli officers in the joint war room where Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United States coordinate.
Last month, Elaph published an unprecedented interview with the Israeli military chief, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, marking the first time any senior Israel Defense Forces officer, let alone the chief of staff, was interviewed by a media organization in Saudi Arabia.
In the interview, Eisenkot called Iran the "real and largest threat to the region." He said Israel and Saudi Arabia are in complete agreement about Iran's intentions and noted that the two countries have never fought each other.
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