Israeli plane bound for Seychelles flies over Saudi Arabian airspace

Israel’s first-ever commercial flight over Saudi airspace to a destination outside the Gulf took off after midnight on Tuesday, with the new route cutting flight time by 20 minutes.

Arkia Airlines flight IZ611 took off from Ben Gurion Airport at 01.19 and landed in the Seychelles off East Africa at 8.20, seven hours later.

In a statement before the flight, Arkia Airlines airline pilot Din Gal said: “Tonight, an Arkia plane will be the first Israeli plane to be allowed to fly over Saudi Arabia, not to Dubai, but from the Seychelles. It will cross Jordan in the Dead Sea region , turn towards Petra and continue along the Red Sea shores of Saudi Arabia. From there it continues its regular route through Eritrea… We hope to see shorter flights to India and Sri Lanka soon.”

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Since the Abraham Agreement was signed in 2020, Saudi Arabia has allowed Israeli airlines to use its airspace for flights to and from the UAE and Bahrain. But that permission was only extended to flights departing and arriving from other destinations last month as part of a multilateral deal to transfer control of two Red Sea islands from Egypt to Saudi Arabia brokered by the Biden administration.

The agreement was reached during US President Joe Biden’s trip to the Middle East, where Washington and Jerusalem considered the Saudi decision to open its airspace to all commercial flights as a first step towards normalizing relations with Israel, as no other country had so far been excluded from these overflights.

But Riyadh tried to play down that idea, insisting its decision had nothing to do with Israel, was more related to its geopolitical goals and was not a harbinger of normalization of ties with Jerusalem.

But Israeli and US officials, unconvinced by the Saudi public stance, insisted that Riyadh was simply trying to appease the domestic public, which is wary of a possible rapprochement with the Jewish state.

However, Jerusalem expects Oman to follow suit, which would open up entirely new routes to Far Eastern destinations such as India and Thailand – popular vacation spots for Israelis. Using Saudi and Omani airspace to reach these destinations would cut travel time by two to four hours and could also lower ticket prices as airlines would save on fuel.

But the Omani authorization is still awaited; Israeli media reported that Muscat was under pressure from neighboring Iran not to grant it.

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