Saudi Arabia says it will open its airspace to all air carriers, paving the way for more overflights to and from Israel – a further sign that relations between the two countries are warming.
General Authority of Civil Aviation
The Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) said on Thursday the country’s airspace was now open to all carriers that meet its needs for overflights, in line with international conventions that state there should be no discrimination between civil aircraft.
The judgment will “complement the efforts aimed at consolidating the kingdom’s position as an international hub connecting three continents and to enhance international air connectivity”, GACA said in a report.
The announcement of an open-skies policy by Riyadh will mean shorter flights from Asia to Israel, as airlines serving those routes will no longer be required to take long detours close to Saudi Arabia en route to Israel.
United States President Joe Biden
United States 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 move.
“This decision paves the way for a more integrated, stable, and confident Middle East region, which is vital for the security and prosperity of the United States and the American people, and for the security and prosperity of Israel,” White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told in a report.
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Earlier on Thursday, a United States official said to Reuters that Saudi Arabia would soon grant Israeli airlines unfettered overflight access and allow direct charter flights from Israel for Muslims participating in the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca.
Israel and Saudi Arabia have no diplomatic relations, and the kingdom does not acknowledge Israel as a state – one possible reason why the Saudi report did not refer to Israel by name.
Behind the scenes, however, the two sides have been operating together on security problems for some time, as both are concerned by the growing influence of their common enemy Iran in the region.
Saudi Arabia has been permitting the use of its airspace for flights between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain since its two Gulf neighbors launched diplomatic relations with Israel in 2020 under US mediation.
In 2020, Saudi air traffic control permitted an Israeli plane on its way to India to fly through its airspace to avoid a bad climate, according to a statement.
In a guest article for The Washington Post earlier this week, Biden stated he was happy 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 blossoming relations and steps towards normalization between Israel and the Arab world”.
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