Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broke his public silence on Jamal Khashoggi’s murder on Friday.
Speaking at the Craiova summit, a conference of Balkan states, Netanyahu said “what happened in the Istanbul consulate was horrendous and it should be duly dealt with. Yet [at] the same time I say it – it is very important for the stability of the world, for the region and for the world, that Saudi Arabia remain stable.”
The Khashoggi case has roiled world politics and media for the past month, since the journalist first disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2. As it became clear that Khashoggi was murdered, Saudi officials scrambled to explain his disappearance before eventually admitting that he was killed.
On Tuesday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan dismissed attempts by Riyadh
to blame Khashoggi’s “savage” killing of rogue operatives, saying the person who ordered the death of the prominent Saudi journalist must “be brought to account.”
Balancing Israel’s warming relations with Saudi Arabia against the international outcry over the murder, Netanyahu shifted his focus back to Iran: “I think that a way must be found to achieve both goals,” he said. “Because the larger problem is Iran and we have to make sure that Iran does not continue the malign activities that it has been doing over the last few weeks in Europe. We have helped uncover two terrorist attacks – one in Paris, and the other one in Copenhagen,
organized by the Iranian secret service.”
Earlier last week, news broke that the Mossad provided Denmark with crucial information that thwarted an Iranian plot to assassinate an Iranian separatist leader in the Scandinavian country. Denmark recalled its ambassador from Iran, calling for new sanctions against Tehran. In a similar incident in June, Israel helped uncover an Iranian plot to attack an opposition rally in France.
“Blocking Iran is uttermost on our agenda for security, not merely for Israel but I believe for Europe and the world as well,” Netanyahu concluded.
On Friday, Netanyahu took part in the summit of the Craiova Group, where Israel was invited as a guest of honor, marking the first time that a foreign leader has been invited to the summit.
Following the bilateral meetings, Netanyahu said, “I am here at the summit of four countries – Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia and Romania. This is the first time that they have invited a leader outside these four countries to participate in their summit. This is a great honor for Israel and reflects Israel’s rising status in the world. Each one of the leaders has individually told me that they will try to improve their consideration of Israel in relevant votes both at the EU and the UN,” Netanyahu said. “They all want to promote the gas pipeline from Leviathan to Europe and the Balkans. They are also very interested in Israeli gas and Israeli technology, and they would very much like Israel’s friendship. This is a good sign.”
Earlier on Friday, the prime minister held individual meetings with the four heads of state. In his meeting with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, he discussed continued cooperation between the two countries in security, economics and technology.
Greece and Cyprus planned to promote the construction of the East-Med pipeline for the export of gas to Europe, and the leaders discussed additional cooperation in this area. On Thursday, Netanyahu said that he believes part of the pipeline will also reach Bulgaria.
The meeting with Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dăncilă focused on strengthening relations between the two countries, including ways to increase trade and investment opportunities, as well as increasing cooperation in security, technology, energy and other bilateral issues. Netanyahu told Dăncilă that Israel protects Europe by preventing dozens of terror attacks on its soil. He also congratulated Dăncilă on Romania’s current presidency of the European Union, requesting Dăncilă’s help in changing the EU’s position on Israel to a more favorable one.
Discussing their mutual interest in expanding economic cooperation, the prime minister and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić agreed to increase trade between the two countries and discussed the promotion of the East-Med gas pipeline to export gas to Europe.
Netanyahu also thanked Serbia on its efforts regarding the preservation of its Jewish heritage. “It is a pleasure for me to see you again and to talk to you about bilateral and regional issues, and I express my appreciation for your friendship and the renovation of the synagogue you carried out,” he told Vučić.
Netanyahu and Prime Minister of Greece Alexis Tsipras discussed expanding their bilateral cooperation in several areas, with an emphasis on the East-Med gas pipeline project.
On Thursday, Netanyahu flew to Bulgaria to further his policy of forging sub-alliances inside the EU to counteract what he views as hostile treatment of Israel from Brussels.
Before departing for Varna, he added that he wants to work with these countries “to change the hypocritical and hostile approach of the EU” toward Israel. “This is a process that will take time, but I believe in setting a goal, and systematically setting out to achieve it – and I believe this is something we will achieve with time,” he said.
Seeking sub-alliances inside the EU led Netanyahu to Vilnius in August, where he took part in a meeting of the leaders of the three Baltic states, and to Hungary in 2017, where he took part in a meeting of the Visegrad countries – Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Netanyahu has also forged an alliance with Greece and Cyprus.
These efforts have borne fruit, as the countries that comprise these groups often stand up for Israel in various EU forums. In May, some of these countries prevented the EU from adopting a resolution that would have condemned the US for moving its embassy to Jerusalem.Herb Keinon contributed to this article.
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