LONDON – Saudi Arabia approved the UAE’s request for the use of its airspace for all routes. The decision comes after an El Al Israel Airlines flight first crossed Saudi Arabia’s airspace on Monday.

On board the El Al flight were American and Israeli officials. The United Arab Emirates and Israel began normalizing relations last month.

This decision also reflects the growing willingness of the Arab Gulf states to recognize their turbulent ties with Israel. The two largest airlines, Emirates (EK) and Eithad Airways (EY) said they had placed tickets on sale between the United Arab Emirates and Israel since Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia Boeing 777-300ER HZ-AK40 taken in Rome Fiumicino Intl’ Airport (FCO) Photo: Andrea Ongaro

Statement from Israeli Prime Minister

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that any airline, including Israeli ones, could fly directly to the UAE via Saudi airspace. This is very important because it means reducing flying hours on Asian routes.

The political benefits come with practical boon to airlines and travelers. Flights will no longer have to go down the Red Sea and up the Gulf of Aden to avoid Saudi airspace, which takes hours as expensive long-haul flights.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “These are the benefits of a peace that is genuine.”

Two years ago, Saudi Arabia had allowed Air India (AI) to fly directly to and from Israel, but permission was withheld from Israeli airlines, at a great disadvantage to them.

El Al Boeing 777 Taking Off from Rome Fiumicino Intl Airport (FCO). Photo: Andrea Ongaro @alphaoscaraviation

Palestinians Taken by Surprise

Palestinians were surprised to see the once hostile United Arab nations open up to cooperation. If the Palestinian statehood cause was once a wedge between them, the intensity of the Arab opposition to Israel has waned as shifts in the regional landscape create new shared interests.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said his country’s stance on the Palestinian cause is unwavering and will not change with the new decision on flights to/from the UAE.

Riyadh has said it remains committed to the Middle East peace initiative the country put forward in 2002, proposing normalized relations only after Israel meets several conditions. This includes a withdrawal from territories occupied in the 1967 war and claimed by the Palestinians for a future state.

Featured image: Jeddah Airport. Photo: Dar Al-Handasah.