The decision only concerns flights between Israel and the UAE.
Rabat – In a historic move, Saudi Arabia has agreed to allow Israeli flights into its airspace. The agreement concerns all flights operating on the new air link between the UAE and Israel, following the two countries’ normalization deal.
The UAE had formally requested that Saudi Arabia open its airspace to UAE-Israel flights, with support from the Trump administration.
Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, was on board the first Israeli commercial flight that crossed Saudi airspace on Monday.
The flight, the first connecting the UAE and Israel, was a symbolic manifestation of the Abraham Accords. It carried American and Israeli delegations from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi.
The following day, Saudi Arabia also allowed a flight from Abu Dhabi, carrying only an Israeli delegation, to pass through its airspace en route to Tel Aviv.
On Wednesday, the Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) stated that it approved the UAE’s request to allow flights to and from Israel to pass over Saudi Arabia.
Previous US administrations had tried but failed to persuade the Gulf kingdom to allow Israeli airlines to enter Saudi airspace.
Axios reports that when Kushner met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman on Tuesday to discuss the issue, Saudi Arabia gave Kushner the green light.
A beaming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted a video to his Twitter account describing the “tremendous breakthrough.”
“For years, I have been working to open the skies between Israel and the East. It was spectacular news two-and-a-half years ago when Air India received approval to fly directly to Israel,” he said in Hebrew.
“Now there is another tremendous breakthrough. Israeli planes and those from all countries [connecting Israel and the UAE] will be able to fly directly from Israel to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and back.”
After touting the practical and economic benefits of “a peace that is genuine,” Netanyahu thanked Kushner and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed “for today’s important contribution.”
“There will be a great deal more good news to come,” he concluded.
Evolving Arab-Israeli ties
On August 13, Israel and the UAE signed the Abraham Accords, an agreement normalizing relations between the two countries. The agreement is the first of its kind Israel has signed with an Arab state since the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty.
Israel and the Trump administration lauded the US-led agreement as a breakthrough heralding an era of unprecedented peace in the Middle East, rife with tension since Israel’s occupation of Palestine officially began in 1948.
The key to securing Israel’s legitimacy as a state, in the eyes of Israeli and American leaders, lies in establishing diplomacy and normalizing relations with the key powers in the region.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE are two such powers. With relations brewing between the UAE and Israel behind closed doors for years, it was only fitting that Abu Dhabi be the first to break the ice, and during a pivotal US election season, at that.
The Saudi kingdom is not far behind. Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman was reportedly set to meet with Netanyahu in Washington, D.C. on August 31 and signal that his country is also warming up to the idea of normalization with Israel.
The secret meeting — canceled after details of MBS’s trip leaked, sources say — would have shown Saudi Arabia’s support for the UAE-Israel agreement while stopping short of officially opening its own door to normalization.
Kushner is confident about the future of Israel-Saudi diplomacy. After the announcement of the Abraham Accords, he said to CNBC: “I do think it is an inevitability that Saudi Arabia and Israel will have fully normalized relations and they will be able to do a lot of great things together.”
Like the UAE, Saudi Arabia appears keen to align its interests with those of the Trump administration. Despite framing the decision to open Saudi airspace to Israeli flights as an “agreement” for the benefit of its close ally, Saudi Arabia’s move is likely the diplomatic signal the US has pushed for in Kushner’s tour of the Middle East.