Saudi Arabia says it will open its airspace to all airlines and pave the way for more overflights to and from Israel.
Saudi Arabia says it will open its airspace to all airlines and pave the way for more flights to and from Israel – a further sign that relations between the two countries are getting warmer.
The Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) said on Thursday that the country’s airspace is now open to all airlines that meet its overflight requirements, in accordance with international conventions that say there should be no discrimination between civilian aircraft.
The decision will “complement efforts to consolidate the Kingdom’s position as a global hub connecting three continents and to improve international air connections”, the GACA added in a statement.
The announcement of an open-air policy from Riyadh will mean shorter flights from Asia to Israel, as airlines operating these routes will no longer be required to take long detours around Saudi Arabia en route to Israel.
US President Joe Biden, who is set to fly to the Kingdom from Israel on Friday as part of a regional tour, welcomed Saudi Arabia’s efforts.
“This resolution paves the way for a more integrated, stable and secure region in the Middle East that is critical to the security and prosperity of the United States and the American people and to the security and prosperity of Israel,” the White House said. That’s what adviser Jake Sullivan says in a statement.
Earlier Thursday, a US official told Reuters that Saudi Arabia will soon give Israeli airlines unrestricted access to overflight and allow direct charter flights from Israel for Muslims participating in the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.
Israel and Saudi Arabia have no diplomatic relations, and the kingdom does not recognize Israel as a state – a possible reason why the Saudi declaration did not refer to Israel by name.
Behind the scenes, however, the two sides have been working together on security issues for some time, as both are concerned about the growing influence of their common enemy Iran in the region.
In fact, Saudi Arabia has allowed the use of its airspace for flights between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain since its two Gulf neighbors established diplomatic relations with Israel in 2020 under US mediation.
In 2020, Saudi air traffic control allowed an Israeli plane en route to India to fly through its airspace to avoid bad weather, according to a report.
In a guest article for The Washington Post earlier this week, Biden said he was pleased he would be the first president to fly directly from Israel to the Saudi city of Jeddah on Friday, calling the trip a “small symbol of the flourishing relations and steps towards normalization between Israel and the Arab world ”.