It looks like they didn’t…meet, that is. Haaretz reports that yesterday:
…Officials in Jerusalem had said that Olmert met with a senior Saudi official they declined to identify.
Yedioth reported that some of the unnamed Israeli officials who had served as sources for the report said that Olmert had met with King Abdullah, and others hinted the talks were with a senior official close to the king.
Ynetnews reported yesterday that the “senior Saudi official” might’ve been King Abdullah himself. This is a case of the game “Telephone” gone haywire. Today, it appears that Olmert himself not only didn’t meet the King (a report he denied in this Ynetnews interview), he didn’t meet any Saudi official. But an Olmert emissary did meet a Saudi official who may’ve been Prince Bandar, director of the Saudi National Security Council. Bandar is one wily, smooth cookie who’s been Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S. He is a very influential fellow in the Saudi hierarchy and one mustn’t underplay the significance of the meeting.
But one does wonder at the Keystone Cops nature of Olmert’s managing the story. Why in God’s name would his staff leak a story falsely claiming that Olmert himself participated in an historic meeting with an extremely secretive and touchy interlocutor who would certainly be displeased to have the existence of the meeting known to the world? To me, it shows once again Olmert’s Not Ready for Prime Time political instincts. This is not the way you advance Israel’s interests in the Arab world. This is the way you act for short term political advantage. Actually, given Likud’s likely hostile response I’m not sure it helps him politically. Though it certainly will have the effect of changing the political subject within an Israel obsessed with the disaster that was the Lebanon war. Whether it changes the subject substantively or not depends on how rigorous and sincere Olmert is in reaching out to the Saudis. If this is just a flash in the pan effort, it won’t help Olmert save his political skin.