Silvio Berlusconi was “a great friend of Israel,” Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday as the world reacted to the death of the 86-year-old Italian political leader.
“I was deeply saddened by the passing of Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister of Italy. My heartfelt condolences go out to his family and to the people of Italy,” Netanyahu said.
“Silvio was a great friend of Israel and stood by us at all times. Rest in peace, my friend,” the premier added.
The media tycoon served as the European country’s prime minister three times in four governments between 1994 and 2011 and as president of the center-right Forza Italia party up until his death in Milan, the city where he was born on Sept. 29, 1936.
Before getting into politics, Berlusconi created a television empire in the 1980s and bought the AC Milan soccer club in 1986. He sold the club to a Chinese consortium in 2017.
Berlusconi was known for his strong support of Israel and close relations with Netanyahu while they simultaneously led their respective countries over the years. The Italian was quoted as saying in 2010 that “my greatest desire, as long as I am a protagonist in politics, is to bring Israel into membership of the European Union.”
While he was in office in 2012, Italy and Israel inked a defense deal worth $1 billion for Italy’s M-346 jet trainer and the joint development of a reconnaissance satellite.
Berlusconi’s support for Israel continued after he left office; in 2014, he said that as the only democracy in the Middle East, the West should support Israel and not the Palestinians.