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First Israel-bound flight crosses Saudi airspace

A Cathay Pacific airplane destined for TLV from Hong Kong was given permission to fly over Saudi Arabia, following authorization of overflights during the U.S. president’s visit to the region

Illustrative - A Cathay Pacific Airways airplane (Photo: REUTERS/Tim Chong/File Photo)

For the first time, a flight bound for Israel was allowed to enter Saudi airspace en route. 

Thursday's flight, operated by Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways, took off from Hong Kong and tracked over the United Arab Emirates and the Persian Gulf, before crossing over the Saudi coastline near Dammam, the country’s fifth-most populous city. 

The plane flew over northern Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and entered Israeli territory north of the Dead Sea.

Another Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to Tel Aviv earlier this week took a different route, flying northwest over China, Kazakhstan and Turkey, and entering Israeli airspace from the Mediterranean Sea.

Reports say Israel’s national airline, El Al, is expected to receive approval to fly over Saudi airspace within the week.

Saudi officials are also expected to approve overflights from Israel to Mecca, which will ease the annual pilgrimage visits of Israeli Muslims. Until now, Israel-based Muslims have had to bus to Jordan before boarding a plane to fulfill the hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to the Kaaba.

Saudi Arabia specified in a statement that its airspace was being opened to all air carriers “that meet the requirements of the Authority for overflying.” This announcement pertains to Israeli companies, who now can shorten their travel routes by crossing over the Saudi airspace. 

Prior to the announcement, Saudi Arabia had barred overflights from non-Israeli companies that were traveling to or from the Jewish state. 

While no Israeli airline his yet to overfly the Saudi airspace, Israel’s Channel 1 TV announced on Wednesday that El Al had received the necessary approval from Riyadh to do so. A conflicting report from Channel 13 on Wednesday said El Al and the smaller Israeli airline, Arkia, were awaiting final approval but expected to receive it by the end of the week.

Both Israel and the United States expressed their support of the Saudi decision to lift restrictions on overflights as a major development in ties between Jerusalem and Riyadh. 

Prior to U.S. President Joe Biden’s trip to the Middle East last month, Israeli officials expressed hope that there would be progress toward normalization with Saudi Arabia. 

After the signing of the Abraham Accords, Saudi Arabia allowed Israeli airlines to overfly its territory for flights to and from the UAE and Bahrain, but did not allow flights to destinations farther east. This week’s changes make possible the saving of two to three hours of flight time to and from India, Thailand, China and other locations in the east.

Israel and Riyadh do not have official diplomatic relations, but covert ties have developed in recent years as the two countries have come to see themselves as partners in a strategic battle against Iranian influence in the Middle East.

Although the Saudi kingdom did not sign onto the Washington-brokered Abraham Accords in 2020, as the U.S. and Israel had hoped for, Saudi Arabia is believed to have given Bahrain – where it retains decisive influence – the green light to join.

Read more: SAUDI ARABIA

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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