Israeli minister in handshake debacle with Saudi spy chief

Danny Ayalon

Danny Ayalon

Much has been made of an episode in the recent Munich Security Conference, in which Israel’s deputy foreign minister shook hands with Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence director. As is often the case in international conferences involving high-level participants from Israel and Muslim states, organizers at the Munich Security Conference went out of their way to ensure that Egyptian, Saudi, and –lately– Turkish government representatives were not to meet in the same seminars with Israeli officials. Participants were surprised, however, to see Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief, Prince Turki bin Faisal al-Saud, present in a seminar that featured a panel contribution by Israeli deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. During the remarks session, Ayalon expressed dissatisfaction with the Muslim participants’ insistence to stay clear of the Israeli delegation, to which Turki al-Faisal responded with reference to Israel’s recent diplomatic spat with the Turkish government. Ayalon then publicly challenged the Prince to shake his hand, saying “if you find it difficult to step up here, I’m ready to come to you and shake your hand”. Turki al-Faisal, who appeared to take this as a personal challenge, stepped up to Ayalon and shook his hand, to the surprise of seminar participants. The Saudi side did not seem to make much of the Prince’s gesture. Things changed, however, following the end of the conference, when Ayalon returned to Israel and started boasting to Israeli media that he “succeeded” in “forcing” Turki al-Faisal to shake hands with him. Reports surfaced in the Israeli press that Ayalon “humiliated” the Saudi Prince, which did not go down well at all in Riyadh. But none of this made the coverage in The New York Times, which presented the entire episode as one happily resolved incident. Some say this is because the Times report relied mostly on a tip by US Senator Joseph Lieberman, who was present at the conference.

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

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