Saudi Arabia crown prince Mohammed bin Salman attempted to talk Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu into waging war against Hamas in Gaza, according to reports.
Salman issued the advice to Netanyahu as part of a strategy to deflect attention away from the gruesome murder of Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi sources have said.
The murder of Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 2 shocked the world and caused consternation among allies of the Gulf state.
Khashoggi, a vociferous critic of Salman and his regime, was murdered by a 15-member “hit squad” of Saudi assassins, Turkish officials have said.
To contain the fallout from the scandal engulfing Salman, a task force of senior officials from the royal court and the intelligence services has been assembled, sources have told Middle East Eye.
One of the options discussed to lessen the impact of Turkish leaks about Khashoggi’s murder was encouraging an conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, according to the sources.
A war in Gaza would distract US president Donald Trump’s attention and highlight the key role Riyadh plays in boosting Israel’s strategic interests, the task force reportedly suggested.
Violence in Gaza has flared up in recent days after an undercover Israeli special forces operation inside the strip was exposed on Sunday.
Netanyahu had said he was “doing everything I can to avoid an unnecessary war” in Gaza in a statement before the raid.
“I am not afraid of war if it’s necessary, but I want to avoid it if it’s not necessary,” he said.
Since then, more than 460 rockets have been fired into Israel by militants, while Israeli aircraft have hit 160 militant targets in response.
Meanwhile, pressure on Salman continues to grow, with reports suggesting there may be a coup to remove him from power over Khashoggi’s killing.
Khashoggi was suffocated to death with a plastic bag covering his head, Nazif Karaman, head of investigations at the Turkish Daily Sabah, has claimed.
Turkish officials have accused Saudi agents of murdering and dismembering Khashoggi, 59, in a seven-minute killing at the consulate before attempting to cover it up.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last weekend that purported audio of his murder has been passed on to Saudi Arabia, the United States, Germany, France and Britain.
His body has not been found, but one theory suggests his diced body parts were dissolved in highly-corrosive acid at the diplomatic building.
Yasin Aktay, who advises Erdogan and was a friend of Khashoggi’s, told pro-government Turkish newspaper Hurriyet that the body was disposed of by dismembering and dissolving.
“According to the latest information we have, the reason they dismembered his body is to dissolve it easier,” he said.
Khasshogi vanished after entering the consulate to obtain documents for his forthcoming marriage.
Saudi officials describe the killing as a rogue operation carried out by Saudi agents who exceeded their authority.