Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has joined the rest of the world in condemning the killing of Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi. But he doesn’t want the controversy to shatter his country’s quiet, emerging alliance with the kingdom against a common enemy — Iran.
What happened at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month “was horrendous and should be duly dealt with,” Netanyahu told reporters Friday in Bulgaria, his first public comments on the Khashoggi affair. “At the same time, it is very important for the stability of the world, for the region and for the world, that Saudi Arabia remains stable.”
Khashoggi’s murder has focused attention on the power behind the Saudi throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. That’s causing difficulties for the U.S. and Israel, which have embraced the ambitious 33-year-old as central to their efforts to counter Iranian influence in the Middle East.
Israel and Saudi Arabia don’t have diplomatic relations but the two countries have long carried on secret political, intelligence and commercial relations — some involving Israel’s biggest defense contractors. Netanyahu frequently talks about how several Arab neighbors are developing closer ties with Israel, partly because they share security concerns about Iran, and partly because they want access to Israeli technology. Until his remarks in Bulgaria on Friday, he almost never mentioned Saudi Arabia by name.
The timing of the comments indicates how important he sees his budding alliance with Prince Mohammed, both in battling Iran and in helping President Donald Trump secure the Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement he calls the “deal of the century.”