Saudi Arabia opens airspace to Israeli flights

In a statement released hours before he was scheduled to fly directly from Israel to Saudi Arabia, Biden hailed the kingdom’s decision, saying it could “help provide momentum for Israel’s further integration into the region.”

The Biden administration has been seeking for months to formalize security and economic agreements between Saudi Arabia and Israel in an attempt to pave the way for a deal to normalize relations between the two countries.

Riyadh is believed to have a secret relationship with Israel, but has yet to officially disclose those diplomatic ties. In 2020, then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly flew to Saudi Arabia for secret meeting with the kingdom’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a claim that has been denied by a senior Riyadh diplomat.

The eventual normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia has been hailed as the “pearl in the crown” of agreements between the Jewish state and the Arab world. The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan normalized relations with Israel in 2020 in a series of agreements at the end of former President Donald Trump’s term.

The kingdom’s decision marks the first time it has allowed Israeli airlines the unrestricted use of its airspace to fly in and out of the country. In recent years, Saudi Arabia has allowed Israeli airlines to fly from Tel Aviv to the UAE and Bahrain only through its airspace.

The move completely lifts Israel’s years-long ban on flying into Saudi Arabian airspace. Previously, Israeli airlines flying on Asian routes such as India and China had to make a detour around Saudi Arabia, which added to travel times.

The Saudi Arabian General Aviation Authority (GACA) on Thursday said in a statement that it had decided to open its airspace to all air carriers “that meet the Authority’s overflight requirements.” It added that the country is striving “to fulfill its obligations under the Chicago Convention of 1944 providing for non-discrimination against civil aircraft used in international air navigation.”

After the Saudi Arabia decision, Biden vowed to do everything possible “through direct diplomacy and engagement between leaders to continue to advance this pioneering process.”

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid hailed the Saudi announcement, which he called the result of “a long journey of intense and covert diplomacy with Saudi Arabia and the United States.” He said the decision was “just the first step” and promised that there would be more on the way to better relations.

Lapid also thanked Biden and wished him well at the Jeddah summit on Saturday.

The President of the United States is scheduled to meet with King Salman and the Crown Prince on Friday night.

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