Saudi skies now open to flights to Israel

An Air India Boeing 787

Air India received a grant of $925,000 (NIS 3.2 million) from the Israeli Ministry of Tourism in order to operate three weekly flights on the new route, the ministry told Ynet News on Wednesday.

While Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have formal relations, in recent years there have been numerous reports of more clandestine relations between the two Middle Eastern powers, especially as both countries see Iran as the primary threat in the region.

The new route was announced by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last July, with Israel's leader Benjamin Netanyahu first suggesting in January the route could pass over Saudi Arabia.

Confirming weeks of speculation, the prime minister added that the flight would now take as long as the journey from Tel Aviv to London.

Jerusalem Post had reported that after his meeting with US President Donald Trump, Netanyahu said that Air India signed an agreement that day enabling the flights to and from Israel over Saudi Arabia. Typically, even government aircraft belonging to allies were forced to make a stopover elsewhere.

"This will be the fastest nonstop between India and Israel by taking the straight route between the two countries", the spokesperson said. The plane must now take a detour over the Red Sea and around the Arabian Peninsula.

El Al slammed what it termed a "discriminatory" move by Saudi authorities, in a letter to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) this week.

"It is for the them to decide on our request, but we haven't yet received any communication about it from the regulator".

Israel, Saudi Arabia and India are parties to the convention. Saudi Arabia has repeatedly denied all ties.

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