Saudi Arabia has agreed to allow UAE flights to “all countries” to overfly the kingdom, state media reported Wednesday, days after allowing an Israeli aircraft to pass over en route to Abu Dhabi.
Saudi Arabia has accepted an Emirati request to allow “crossing the kingdom’s airspace for flights heading to the UAE and departing from it to all countries”, the official Saudi Press Agency said, citing a source from the civil aviation authority.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meanwhile announced that Monday’s historic first commercial flight of an Israeli aircraft direct to the United Arab Emirates across Saudi Arabia would not be the last.
“Israeli planes and those from all countries will be able to fly directly from Israel to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and back,” Netanyahu said, without giving any timeline.
The announcements come after a US-Israeli delegation visited Abu Dhabi on Monday, on the first direct commercial flight from Tel Aviv to mark the normalisation of ties between the Jewish state and the UAE.
Saudi Arabia has said it will not follow the United Arab Emirates in establishing diplomatic ties with Israel until the Jewish state has signed an internationally recognised peace accord with the Palestinians.
But the kingdom has cultivated clandestine relations with Israel in recent years, in a shift spearheaded by de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
In a sign of its cooperation with Israel, Saudi Arabia allowed Monday’s historic flight to cross its airspace, halving what would otherwise have been a long detour around the Arabian peninsula.
However, Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s biggest economy and home to Islam’s holiest sites, faces more sensitive political calculations than the UAE.
Not only would a formal recognition of Israel be seen by Palestinians and their supporters as a betrayal of their cause, it would also hurt the kingdom’s image as the leader of the Islamic world.
In 2002, Saudi Arabia sponsored the Arab Peace Initiative which called for Israel’s complete withdrawal from the Palestinian territories occupied in the Six-Day War of 1967 and an equitable solution for Palestinian refugees, in exchange for peace and the full normalisation of relations.
But a shared animosity towards Iran, along with Saudi attempts to attract foreign investment to fund Prince Mohammed’s ambitious Vision 2030 economic diversification plan, appear to be pushing the kingdom closer to Israel than ever.