Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday told his Belgian counterpart that Israel’s fight against jihadist terrorism was preventing an even worse migrant crisis in Europe.
Speaking at a press conference with Charles Michel at his official residence in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said the Jewish state was the only stable power in the region and was preventing the “collapse of the Western part of the Middle East.”
“Israel has been at the forefront of the countries that fight militant Islam,” said Netanyahu, noting intelligence-sharing with European countries.
“I think in a larger sense, Prime Minister, it’s important to recognize that Israel is the strongest force in the Middle East that prevents the collapse of the Western part of the Middle East. If that were to happen, we would have untold misery to many, many more millions of residents of the Middle East and a great increase flow to Europe. Israel prevents that,” Netanyahu said.
“And I think in this sense, Israel is doing an important service for the peoples of Europe, including Belgium,” the prime minister added.
The migration crisis has seen more than one million people flee war, poverty and oppression in Syria, the Middle East and North Africa for Europe. The Syrian civil war alone has forced 4.8 million people to leave Syria, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Turkey has taken in more than 2.7 million Syrians, the UNHCR says, and is now the main host country. It is followed by Lebanon with more than one million Syrian refugees, according to the UN. The UNHCR says Jordan has taken in 655,000 Syrians, but Amman says the number is much higher, at 1.4 million. Syrian refugees have in increasing numbers traveled to, or tried to reach, Europe, making the perilous journey overground or by sea.
There are some 55,000 migrants in Israel, many of them from Sudan and Eritrea. However, the flow into Israel has been slowed to almost none since Israel built a fence on its southern border with Egypt.
Netanyahu went on to praise intelligence-sharing between Israel and Belgium on counter-terrorism efforts, as well as the $3 billion in annual trade between the two countries.
The prime minister also attributed the stalled peace process to “the persistent Palestinian refusal” to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. “This is the core of our particular conflict. I look forward to the day when we have Palestinians who are willing to recognize, finally, the Jewish state. That will be the beginning of peace and a great step forward to achieving it,” said Netanyahu.
During his trip to the Jewish state, Michel also met with President Reuven Rivlin and young Belgians living in Israel. He also visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
AFP contributed to this report.