Wednesday, Oct 05, 2022

Historic First: Saudi Arabia Allows Air India To Use Its Airspace To Operate Direct Flights To Israel

Influence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the region?

File Photo

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday granted approval to Air India to use its airspace to operate direct flights from New Delhi to Tel Aviv, indicative of thaw in relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

This is the first time the Saudis are allowing flights to Israel to use their airspace, reported Haaretz.

During his six-day state visit to Delhi, Netanyahu had dropped hints that this would come true.

He told a group of Indian businessmen: "One of the things we are trying to do is promote a simple thing - an efficient and direct route between Israel and India, the kind we have between Israel and Silicon Valley, the kind we now have between Israel and China." During Netanyahu's recent visit to India, flight routes was a major point of discussion.

Saudi Arabia officially does not recognize the existence of Israel, and all planes flying from Israel to India and returning, are banned from flying through Saudi Arabian airspace.

The decision, which will be implemented in March this year, will shorten the distance between New Delhi to Tel Aviv by two and a half hours. It will also reduce the fuel costs which means cheaper tickets for the passengers.

Talmiz Ahmed, who was Indian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia (2000-03; 2010-11); Oman (2003-04), and the UAE (2007-10), said “It will boost the air connection between India and Israel, and it has been long overdue.” 

“Opening up the airspace was the result of increasing interaction between Saudi Arabia and Israel, signifying that Israel is increasingly seeing itself as an integral part of the West Asian geographical space,” Ahmed said. 

“Hopefully, this will encourage Israel to engage more robustly with the issues that have distanced it from its neighbours, primarily the issue relating to Palestine and associated with that its propensity to resort to violence against its neighbours, particularly in Gaza and Lebanon on a unilateral benefit.”

For seventy years now, Saudi airspace has been closed not only to Israeli aircraft, but to those of other nations with a flight-path to Israel. The current arrangement allows only El Al to provide direct services to India. In an 8-hour route from Ben-Gurion International Airport to Mumbai, the flight crosses the Red Sea south of Yemen, then turns east to India.

The approval is not only a sign of warming relations between Jerusalem and the now-more-pragmatic Riyadh, the move, reported Haaretz, can “also be seen as influence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the region”. Modi is scheduled to visit occupied West Bank on February 10. Last year, he became the first Indian premier to go to Israel on an official state visit.

“This is the result of improving relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel. The ties India have with these countries are well established and go back 20 or 30 years. PM Modi has built on that very vigorously. 

When asked if this is a result of Saudi becoming more pragmatic, he said: “This is also a reflection of the turbulence in the region where attempts are being made to shape new relationships and new alliances”.

In May, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Gulf States offered Israel a trade-off that they will permit Israeli planes to fly over their airspace and in return, Israel will have to freeze all settlement activity in Judea and Samaria and will ease restrictions on commerce with the Gaza strip.