Saudi Arabia agreed on Monday to let Israeli airliners cross its airspace en route to the United Arab Emirates after talks between Saudi officials and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, a senior Trump administration official said.
Kushner and Middle East envoys Avi Berkowitz and Brian Hook raised the issue shortly after they arrived in Saudi Arabia for talks. According to the Israeli i24news, the Tel Aviv administration asked Washington to persuade Saudi Arabia to allow use of its airspace and Kushner stepped in.
“We were able to reconcile the issue,” the official told Reuters.
The agreement was hammered out just hours before Israel’s first commercial flight to the UAE was planned on Tuesday morning. The Israir flight was at risk of being canceled with no overflight agreement.
An announcement by Saudi Arabia’s official news agency said that the kingdom’s civil aviation authority had approved a request by UAE’s aviation authority “which includes the desire to allow flights coming to and departing from the United Arab Emirates to all countries to pass through the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s airspace”.
This will help the route of Israeli flights to UAE — to start from this month onwards — shorten by half.
The permit was only valid for the UAE and Israeli companies will not be allowed to use the Saudi Arabian airspace for flights to other countries, said Israel’s local media report.
Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the development, terming it a “tremendous breakthrough” and “benefits of a peace that is genuine”. In a video message, he said that crossing through the Saudi airspace would shorten the journey from Israel to UAE. He also thanked Kushner and UAE crown prince for their “important contribution” towards the Saudi decision.
“This should resolve any issues that should occur with Israeli carriers taking people from Israel to the UAE and back and to Bahrain,” the US official said.
The direct flights are an offshoot of normalisation deals Israel reached this year with the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan.
Kushner and his team were to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman later this week, as well as the emir of Kuwait. One goal of the trip is to try to persuade Gulf Cooperation Council countries to end a three-year blockade of Qatar.
In 2018, the Saudi kingdom granted approval to Air India to use its airspace to operate direct flights from New Delhi to Tel Aviv.
In September this year, Saudi Arabia also allowed Israel’s first commercial flight to UAE to cross its airspace.