Saudi Arabia announced on Friday the opening of its airspace to “all carriers,” paving the way for Israeli commercial airlines to overfly the kingdom and thereby drastically reduce flight times from the Jewish state to major destinations in Asia, according to a statement by Riyadh’s General Authority of Civil Aviation.
“Within the framework of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s keenness to fulfill its obligations under the Chicago Convention of 1944, which stipulates non-discrimination between civil aircraft used in international air navigation, and to complement the efforts aimed at consolidating the Kingdom’s position as a global hub connecting three continents and to enhance international air connectivity, the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) announces the decision to open the Kingdom’s airspace for all air carriers that meet the requirements of the Authority for overflying,” said the Saudi statement.
The move comes just hours before U.S. President Joe Biden is set to fly from Israel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and is viewed as a tangible step towards normalizing relations between Israel and the Sunni Muslim kingdom.
Saudi officials are also expected to approve direct flights from Israel to Mecca, which will allow Israeli Muslims to more easily make the annual Hajj pilgrimage. Until now, Muslim worshippers had to embark on a lengthy bus ride from Israel to Jordan before boarding a flight to Mecca.
“[The] decision is the result of the president’s persistent and principled diplomacy with Saudi Arabia over many months, culminating in his visit today,” U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, who is accompanying Biden on his Middle East trip, said in a statement released shortly after the aviation announcement. “[It] paves the way for a more integrated, stable and secure 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.”
Since the signing of the initial Abraham Accords normalization agreements in the fall of 2020 between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates—and later, Sudan and Morocco—Saudi Arabia has allowed flights between Israel and several Gulf states to cross through its airspace.
Last week, Israeli defense reporters visited the kingdom and published reports about the experience.
In 2020, then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly flew to Saudi Arabia for a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman aimed at fostering bilateral ties.