First overflight of Saudi airspace for a flight to Israel

A commercial flight to Israel flew through Saudi airspace on Thursday for the first time since Saudi Arabia opened its skies to all flights, including Israeli ones, last month.

The flight of the Hong Kong airline Cathay Pacific took off from Hong Kong and landed in Tel Aviv on Thursday morning.

A flight tracking service tracked the plane as it flew over the United Arab Emirates and the Persian Gulf before crossing the Saudi border at Damman. The plane flew over northern Saudi Arabia and Jordan and entered Israeli territory north of the Dead Sea.

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Another Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to Tel Aviv took an alternative route earlier this week, flying over northwestern China, Kazakhstan and Turkey before entering Israeli airspace via the Mediterranean.

Last month, Saudi Arabia announced the opening of its airspace to all civilian overflights, just hours before US President Joe Biden was due to fly directly to the Kingdom from Israel for the first time ever. American history.

Saudi Arabia explained that it had opened its airspace “to all airlines that meet the Authority’s overflight requirements”, with permission to de facto Israeli companies are also shortening their routes by using Saudi airspace. The situation that prevailed before this announcement had the effect of prohibiting the overflight of non-Israeli companies to or from Israel.

Since last month’s announcement, no Israeli airline has yet flown through Saudi airspace.

On Wednesday, Kan public broadcaster reported that Israeli airline El Al had received official permission from Riyadh to begin using its airspace, while Channel 13 reported the same day that El Al and Israeli airline Arkia were awaiting the final green light from Saudi- Arabia for this. weekend.

Both Israel and the United States hailed Saudi Arabia’s decision to lift restrictions on overflights as a sign of a significant improvement in relations between Jerusalem and Riyadh. Ahead of Biden’s visit, Israeli authorities expressed high hopes for progress toward normalization with Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia has somehow dashed those hopes, saying the decision had “nothing to do with its diplomatic relations with Israel” and was “in no way a harbinger of new steps” toward normalization.

Saudi Arabia began allowing Israeli airlines to use its airspace in a dedicated air corridor for flights to and from the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, following the conclusion of the Abraham Agreement in 2020, without allowing flights to more eastern destinations.

Overflight permit [donnée le mois passé] means that flights to and from India, Thailand, China and other eastern countries will be able to significantly shorten their flight schedule. Until then, flights to Asia departing from Tel Aviv actually had to bypass the Arabian Peninsula, adding two to three hours to the travel time.

The travel-friendly decision will also benefit Muslims in Israel eager to participate in the hajj, as direct charter flights to Saudi Arabia will be chartered for pilgrims every year.

Israel and Saudi Arabia do not officially maintain diplomatic relations, but covert ties have improved significantly in recent years as Riyadh and its leader de factoSaudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman came to the conclusion that Israel could be a strategic partner against Iranian influence.

Much to the disappointment of the US and Israel, the kingdom refused to sign the Abraham deal brokered by Washington in 2020, but Riyadh reportedly gave the green light to Bahrain, over which it still has decisive influence, to join the normalization deal with Israel alongside the United Arab Emirates and Morocco.

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