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What The Khashoggi Case Means For Israel


For years now Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has not so quietly worked in tandem with Saudi Arabia's rulers. Even if the two countries don't have formal diplomatic relations, they saw shared interests and also a shared antipathy towards Iran. Well, now Saudi Arabia's crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, faces suspicion for a killing and a cover-up after the death of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. So what does this mean for Israel? NPR's Daniel Estrin is with us from Jerusalem.

Hi, Daniel.


GREENE: So how is Netanyahu handling this? What's he saying?

ESTRIN: So far he's said one thing about this. Early last week, he said, I know about the Khashoggi affair as much as you do. He was responding to a question from a journalist. Privately, I can imagine he's quite worried. He has spoken a lot about a new Middle East where some Arab countries, enemies of Israel, are starting to get closer to Israel. And Saudi Arabia has been seen as the first in line.

And I remember - I was in Washington earlier this year. I was covering Netanyahu's visit to the White House. Netanyahu briefed reporters. He then ended the briefing with a little bit of drama. He took out a piece of paper. He said he'd been working on an issue for a long time. And he read from this paper that Saudi Arabia was going to open its airspace so flights from India could fly over Saudi Arabia and reach Israel, you know, instead of making a big detour...


ESTRIN: ...Around Saudi Arabia. So this was, like, touted by Netanyahu as a major achievement. And now with this scandal - with Khashoggi's killing - it's going to be very hard for Israel to boast about these ties with the Saudis.

GREENE: Dramatic moments like that - bringing out a piece of paper - makes you really think that Netanyahu thinks about this a lot and wanted to send a message about the potential here for a relationship. So how do Israelis feel about that? How do they feel about Saudi Arabia and its leader?

ESTRIN: Well, they've really been banking on Mohammed bin Salman, MBS as he's called. They see him as the man in Saudi Arabia who leads - who has led this new approach toward Israel. And they believe he's willing to do two things - first, press the Palestinians to accept whatever plan Trump presents for a peace deal with Israel and, two, to lead a coalition of Arab countries to stand up to their mutual enemy, Iran.

And the concern here now is that MBS, Mohammed bin Salman, after this killing will be more defensive - on the defensive inside Saudi Arabia and won't be in a good position to push these things vis-a-vis Israel. And as former ambassador to Israel under President Obama, Dan Shapiro has said, can you imagine any European diplomats now willing to really be seen sitting down with Mohammed bin Salman, you know, and discussing Iran?

GREENE: What about Palestinian leaders? And what about the rest of the region because there's often very little nuance when it comes to Saudi Arabia. It's sort of a feeling throughout the region - right? - that you're either with the Saudis or not.

ESTRIN: Yes. And we've seen that - a lot of wall-to-wall support by many countries - Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, many others, allies of Saudi Arabia putting out, curiously, almost word-for-word statements in some instances supporting Saudi Arabia. A lot of these countries get money from Saudi Arabia.

GREENE: NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem for us this morning.

Daniel, thanks as always.

ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.
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