'If Saudi Arabia destabilized, world would be destabilized'

PM justifies tacit support for Saudi Arabia despite ‘horrific’ Khashoggi murder

Netanyahu tells foreign journalists in Jerusalem that the slaying of the regime critic is balanced by the important role played by the kingdom in maintaining global stability

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks the Government Press Office's annual New Year's toast in Jerusalem on December 12, 2018. (Gali Tibbon/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks the Government Press Office's annual New Year's toast in Jerusalem on December 12, 2018. (Gali Tibbon/AFP)

Acknowledging the need for “realpolitik,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday appeared to defend Israel’s tacit support of Saudi Arabia in the face of growing criticism of the murder of a Saudi journalist.

While he described Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal October 2 murder at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate as “horrific,” he stressed that the gulf state’s stability was crucial for global stability.

“What happened in Istanbul is horrific, nothing short of that. It’s horrific. And I think that will be dealt with in its own way,” he said, adding that every country has to figure out how it will react to the affair.

However, Khashoggi’s gruesome assassination is “balanced by the importance of Saudi Arabia and the role it plays in the Middle East,” the prime minister told foreign journalists in Jerusalem.

In this image made from a March 2018 video provided by Metafora Production, Jamal Khashoggi speaks during an interview at an undisclosed location. (Metafora Production via AP)

“Because if Saudi Arabia would be destabilized, the world would be destabilized. Not the Middle East — the world would be destabilized. And I think that has to be taken into account,” he said.

US intelligence is said to blame Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for ordering the killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post writer who was critical of the regime in Riyadh. The US administration, which sees the kingdom as an important ally, especially in the fight against Iran, has indicated that it will defy calls for sanctions against the crown prince.

Addressing the Government Press Office’s annual New Year’s reception for foreign journalists, Netanyahu said it was “reasonable” for democracies to discuss Khashoggi affair, but attacked Iran for criticizing Saudi Arabia over the incident.

“To have this kind of criticism from countries that themselves practice hangings in the public square of journalists or gays or political dissidents — about 1,500 are executed in Iran each year. To have Iran lecture us on this is absurd,” he said.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Future Investment Initiative conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh, on October 23, 2018. (Fayez Nureldine/AFP)

People should ask themselves what “universal standard” should be applied in the Khashoggi affair.

“We always have a tensions between the most basic human rights — the right to life, the right to a free press, which is guaranteed in Israel,” he said. “But we also know that on the other side there is also realpolitik. And I don’t deny it, I openly say it. There’s a balance here, there’s always a balance. But to have this criticism emanate from this dictatorial theocracy…that’s a measure of hypocrisy we don’t have to tolerate.”

Responding to a question from a Brazilian journalist, Netanyahu confirmed his intention to fly to Brasilia in three weeks for the inauguration of the country’s incoming president, Jair Bolsonaro.

Jair Bolsonaro, presidential candidate with the Social Liberal Party, waves after voting in the presidential runoff election in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, October 28, 2018 (AP Photo/Silvia izquierdo)

“I was very glad to hear that Mr Bolsonaro thinks that we should upgrade and change Brazil’s attitude to Israel,” he said.

“Brazil is a great country. It has enormous economic potential. And I think this will be of tremendous benefit to both our countries.”

Reuters recently reported that Netanyahu, who is also foreign minister, is set to travel to Brazil for one day to attend the January 1 event. The Foreign Ministry at the time confirmed Netanyahu’s intention but said his travel plans have not been finalized.

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