Saudi Arabia on Wednesday 7 February 2018 granted
approval to Air India to use its airspace to operate direct flights
from New Delhi to Tel Aviv, indicative of thaw in relationship between
Saudi Arabia and Israel.
This is the first time the Saudis are allowing flights
to Israel to use their airspace, reported Haaretz.
During his six-day state visit to India, Netnyahu had
spoken about this move. He had told a group of Indian businessmen that they
were trying to promote “ a simple thing-“ an efficient and direct route between
Israel and India, the kind we have between Israel and Silicon Valley, the kind
we now have between Israel and China”.
Since Saudi Arabia had not officially recognized
Israel, it had banned flying from Israel to India and returning in Saudi
The decision to be implemented in March this year cuts
down flying time between New Delhi and Tel Aviv by two and a half hours with
the additional benefits of reduced fuel consumption and costs as well.
Talmiz Ahmed, who was Indian Ambassador to Saudi
Arabia (2000-03; 2010-11); Oman (2003-04), and the UAE (2007-10), said “It
will boost the air connection between India and Israel, and it has been long
“Opening up the airspace was the result of increasing
interaction between Saudi Arabia and Israel, signifying that Israel is
increasingly seeing itself as an integral part of the West Asian geographical
space,” Ahmed said.
“Hopefully, this will encourage Israel to engage more
robustly with the issues that have distanced it from its neighbours, primarily
the issue relating to Palestine and associated with that its propensity to
resort to violence against its neighbours, particularly in Gaza and Lebanon on
a unilateral benefit.”
For seventy years now, Saudi airspace has been closed
not only to Israeli aircraft, but to those of other nations with a flight-path
to Israel. The current arrangement allows only El Al to provide direct services
to India. In an 8-hour route from Ben-Gurion International Airport to Mumbai,
the flight crosses the Red Sea south of Yemen, then turns east to India.
The approval is not only a sign of warming relations between
Jerusalem and the now-more-pragmatic Riyadh, the move, reported Haaretz,
can “also be seen as influence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the
scheduled to visit occupied West Bank on February 10. Last year, he became
the first Indian premier to go to Israel on an official state visit.
“This is the result of improving relationship between
Saudi Arabia and Israel. The ties India have with these countries are well
established and go back 20 or 30 years. PM Modi has built on that very
When asked if this is a result of Saudi becoming more
pragmatic, he said: “This is also a reflection of the turbulence in the region
where attempts are being made to shape new relationships and new alliances”.