Reports surfaced Wednesday that Saudi Arabia will permit Air India to use its airspace for direct flights from Tel Aviv to New Delhi.
According to multiple media reports, Air India would be allowed to fly over Saudi Arabia beginning in March of this year, the development historic, as Israel has been banned from entering Saudi airspace for 70 years.
Flights from Tel Aviv to New Delhi would be shortened by two hours and India would receive €750,000 grant from Israel’s Ministry of Tourism. The flights would begin at three times a week and is seen as the start for allowing Israeli airlines to fly over Saudi Arabia in the future.
Reports surfaced following a meeting between India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj with Saudi officials in Riyadh this week. Following, El Al, Israel’s national airline, welcomed the development, the airline’s Vice President Michael Strassburger announcing to Israeli media “El Al and all Israelis welcome Saudi Arabian agreement to allow flights to and from India passing over its skies. This will significantly shorten flight times, leading to lower operating costs and ticket prices for passengers. We hope and believe that this agreement will also be valid for all Israeli airlines, not just foreign airlines.”
Strong bilateral ties between India and Israel, the recent historic visits by Prime Minister Netanyahu to India following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel, as well as efforts from Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, have all been cited as influencing the historic development. India and Israel signed numerous bilateral and trade agreements, including agreements in aviation and tourism during Netanyahu’s India tour last month.
Saudi Arabia denied the reports, as common with the Kingdom with any public recognition of growing ties with Israel. The Saudi’s General Authority of Civil Aviation denied Air India was given permission on Wednesday night.
Last month, a Swiss newspaper reported increased secret cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia in combatting Iran. It was one of several recent reports claiming Israeli-Saudi cooperation on regional developments, mainly involving Iran. The paper as claimed that Saudi Arabia is considering purchasing defense systems, such as the Iron Dome and tanks “which Israel claims has proven to be effective in countering rocket attacks from Gaza Strip.”
Saudi Arabia denied the reports.
In September of 2017, Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the current defense minister, was reported to have secretly visited Israel. The meeting was reportedly held with Israeli security officials and centered on Arab initiatives to resume the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as on Iran.
The Kingdom denied the meeting.
During the same period, Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed Israel’s growing relations with Arab states, stating “What is actually happening with the Arab states has never happened in our history, even when we signed agreements. Cooperation between Israel and Arab states exists in various ways and different levels, though it still is not visible above the surface. There is much more than during any other period in the history of Israel. This is a tremendous change. The entire world is changing.”
And most recent, Saudi Arabia denied its part in a proposed alternative to Jerusalem for the Palestinians. Reports surfaced in early December 2017 claiming a new U.S. peace plan, backed by Saudi Arabia, that would allocate Abu Dis, a Palestinian town adjacent to Jerusalem, as a future Palestinian capital. Mid-January, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas confirmed the Palestinians were in fact offered Abu Dis as the future capital of a Palestinian state.
This article originally appeared on Behold Israel, February 8, 2018, and reposted with permission.