Saudi Arabia opens airspace to Israeli airlines

Riyadh has agreed to allow overflights by all air carriers in a move hailed by the White House as fostering Middle East stability

President Joe Biden is taking credit for a decision by Saudi Arabia to open its airspace to overflights by all air carriers, which he claimed will promote greater stability in the Middle East by further integrating Israel with its neighbors.

“Today, I will be the first president of the United States to fly from Israel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia,” Biden said on Friday as he began the second leg of his trip to the Middle East . “As we mark this important moment, Saudi Arabia’s decision can help build momentum toward Israel’s further integration into the region, including with Saudi Arabia.”

Biden said Riyadh’s historic move marks an “important step toward building a more integrated and stable Middle East region.” He added, “While this opening has long been discussed, now, thanks to months of steady diplomacy between my administration and Saudi Arabia, it is finally a reality.”

The Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) revealed the new policy late on Thursday, saying it reflected the kingdom’s “keenness” to fulfill its obligations under a 1944 international pact calling for non-discrimination in civil aviation. The decision will also further Saudi Arabia’s efforts to consolidate its position as a global air hub connecting three continents.

Having to bypass the airspace of a country spanning 830,000 square miles has inflated flight times and fuel consumption for Israeli flights toward such Asian destinations as China and India. The new policy is expected to cut hours off the travel times for some routes and will enable Israeli Muslims to catch direct charter flights for the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

“It will be a new era that will bring Asia closer to Israel,” Israir CEO Uri Sirkis told Tel Aviv’s 103 FM radio station.

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