Warming in perspective of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. The Saudi Civil Aviation Authority has “announced its decision to open the kingdom’s airspace to all air carriers” meeting the regulatory overflight conditions, it said in a statement on Twitter. She said the move was made to “consolidate the kingdom’s position as a global hub.”
— ksagaca (@هيئة الطيران المدني)January 14, 2022
Friday’s announcement lifts de facto overflight restrictions for planes traveling to and from Israel.
Joe Biden immediately welcomed this “historic decision”, said in a press release his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, who sees it as “the result of the perseverance” of the American president’s diplomatic efforts. Joe Biden will also fly directly from Israel to Riyadh, an unprecedented flight between Israel and Saudi Arabia, a country that does not officially recognize the Jewish state.
Skepticism over official ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel
Ahead of Joe Biden’s arrival in Israel on Wednesday, Washington had hinted that more Arab countries could forge ties with Israel, fueling speculation over whether Saudi Arabia would be next.
The kingdom showed no opposition when its regional ally, the United Arab Emirates, recognized Israel in 2020, followed by Bahrain and Morocco, under the Abraham Accords brokered by the United States.
Yet analysts predict that Riyadh is unlikely to agree to formal ties with the Jewish state during Joe Biden’s visit, or while the 86-year-old King Salman still reigns.
Also read: In Israel, Joe Biden’s politics of the status quo
Shortly after the announcement of the Abraham Accords in 2020, Saudi Arabia allowed overflights of its territory by an Israeli plane en route to Abu Dhabi, and announced that flights from Emirates to “all countries” could fly over the kingdom.
Desire to become a global hub
Israel has lobbied for overflight rights to shorten routes to Asia. The Israeli authorities also want Muslim pilgrims from Israel to be able to travel directly to Saudi Arabia. Currently, they are forced to make expensive stopovers in third countries.
At the beginning of May, Saudi Arabia announced its intention to become a world hub in air transport and to triple its annual traffic, to reach 330 million passengers by the end of the decade. Riyadh plans to inject $100 billion into the sector by 2030, launch a new national airline and build a new “mega airport” in the capital.
Analysts, however, question the ability of Saudi companies to compete with other regional heavyweights, such as Emirates or Qatar Airways.