In Israel’s first public comments on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday that while the killing was “horrendous,” it was still necessary to preserve stability in the Arab kingdom.
“What happened at the Istanbul consulate was horrendous and it should be duly dealt with. But at the same time, it is very important for the stability of the region and the world that Saudi Arabia remain stable,” he said during a visit to Varna, Bulgaria.
“I think that a way must be found to achieve both goals. Because the larger problem I believe is Iran, and we have to make sure that Iran does not continue the malign activities that it has been engaged in over the last few weeks in Europe,” he said.
“We have helped uncover two terrorist attacks — one in Paris, and the other one in Copenhagen, organized by the Iranian secret service. Blocking Iran is at the top of our agenda for security, not merely for Israel but I believe for Europe and the world as well.”
Netanyahu’s comments came a day after the Washington Post reported that he had recently urged the White House to maintain its support for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman amid growing criticism over the killing of Khashoggi.
Netanyahu told Trump administration officials that bin Salman was a key strategic partner and a linchpin of the alliance against Iranian encroachment in the region, according to the Post.
Israeli officials confirmed the Post’s report to the Ynet news site.
The Israeli leader had previously refrained from publicly weighing in on the murder by Saudi agents of Khashoggi, a journalist and regime critic, at the consulate. The murder has drawn withering criticism of Riyadh from around the world.
Netanyahu also said Friday that his invitation to a meeting of four Balkan leaders was a sign of Israel’s improved international standing.
Netanyahu was in Bulgaria for the Craiova Forum, which brings together the leaders of Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Greece. He met on Friday with each of the leaders separately.
In a statement issued after the meetings the premier said: “This is the first time they’ve invited a leader outside these four countries to participate. It’s a great honor for Israel, and reflects Israel’s rising status in the world.”
He said all four leaders promised him “they will seek to improve their votes on issues pertaining to us at the European Union and at the UN.” He added that the four nations were very interested in Israel’s natural gas reserves as well as Israeli technology.
Romania will hold the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union, one of the bloc’s major legislative bodies, between January and June of next year.
Israel has been working with Greece and Cyprus to construct a pipeline that will supply East Mediterranean gas to Europe.
The so-called EastMed Pipeline Project will have the capacity to carry up to 20 billion cubic meters (706 billion cubic feet) of gas yearly. Europe’s gas import needs are projected to increase by 100 billion cubic meters (3500 billion cubic feet) annually by 2030.