Fri, 05 Jun 2020

Israeli PM comes to defense of Saudi crown prince

By Jay Jackson, Buffalo News.Net
14 Dec 2018, 00:02 GMT+10

TEL AVIV, Israel - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has thrown his support behind Saudi Arabia over the Jamal Khashoggi affair publicly.

It was known Mr Netanyahu had previously telephoned U.S. President Donald Trump in support of Saudi Arabia, and in particular Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Those calls however were private.

On Wednesday that changed when the prime minister responded to a question from a reporter at the Shalva National Center in Jerusalem, where he was attending the Annual New Year's toast for foreign journalists. 

The reporter asked how Mr Netanyahu assesses the leadership of Muhammad bin Salman vis-à-vis Israel and the Iranian threat, and the peace process and whether his role has been impaired by the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

The Israeli prime minister said what had occurred was horrific, however human rights and the right of a free press need to be offset against geopolitical realities. 

"What happened in Istanbul is horrific and I think that will be dealt with. Each country will have to figure out, especially the countries that have formal relations, will figure out what to do with that. It's balanced by the importance of Saudi Arabia and the role it plays in the Middle East because if Saudi Arabia were to 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," Mr Netanyahu said. 

"This is an important question to be considered in democracies but the criticism comes 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."

"People should ask the question: What is the universal standard that is applied here? Now we have always tension between the most basic human rights, the right to life and the right of a free press, but on the other side there is also realpolitik. And I don't deny it. There's always a balance. But to have this criticism emanate from dictatorial theocracies that oppress their own people, execute their own people and oppress journalists; that's a measure of hypocrisy that we don't have to tolerate," the Israeli prime minister said.

Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have diplomatic relations, but the Israeli prime minister has on several occasions indicated there are talks going on behind the scenes and has forecast that closer ties will eventuate soon. 

In Dubai on Thursday experts from around the world gathered for the 11th Arab Strategy Forum, which occurs every year with a focus on global political, economic, security and social issues, and the Khashoggi murder and Saudi Arabia's role in the region, and the world was at the forefront.

Most speakers see the United States continuing to enjoy strong relations with the kingdom. "The Trump administration has been fighting very hard to move beyond Jamal Khashoggi," Fawaz Gerges, professor of international relations at the London School of Economics, told the forum, in a panel discussion on the "State of the World Politics in 2019." 

"They have made it very clear that they want to focus on other interests; the Israel-Palestine peace process, the question of Iran, the oil market … President Trump has made it very clear that Saudi Arabia really lies at the heart and the core of his foreign policy," he said.

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