Skip to main content

Netanyahu heralds flights over Saudi Arabia as 'very big change'

Saudi Arabia lifted a 70-year ban on flights to and from Israel using its airspace
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu at an Indian-Israel business summit (AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday he hopes to slash flight times between Tel Aviv and India's financial capital Mumbai, days after Air India ran the first scheduled Israel-bound service to cross Saudi airspace.

The flight from New Delhi landed at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport on Thursday in a sign of a discreet warming of ties between the Arab kingdom and Israel.

What we have done here is a breakthrough to huge new markets and this is a very big change

- Israeli Prime Ministe Benjamin Netanyahu

"What we have done here is a breakthrough to huge new markets, and this is a very big change," Netanyahu told the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday.

"The goal that I hope to reach is that the next flight or flights will also include direct flights from Tel Aviv to Mumbai in five hours," his office quoted him as saying in Hebrew.

Air India plans to run three flights a week in each direction after Saudi Arabia lifted a decades-old ban on the use of its airspace for commercial flights to Israel.

Air India flight 139 landed in Tel Aviv Thursday after crossing Oman, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the occupied West Bank. In doing so, it became the first commercial plane to cross Saudi airspace to Israel since the 70-year-old ban was lifted.

On Saturday, Israeli national carrier El Al told Al Jazeera it will complain to Israel’s Supreme Court over its own lack of access to Saudi airspace.

El Al's current Mumbai service must dogleg over the Red Sea to avoid Saudi and Iranian airspace in a journey that takes around eight hours.

Saudi Arabia, like much of the Arab world, has no official diplomatic relations with Israel. Egypt and Jordan are the only two Arab countries to have peace treaties with the country.

The new route between Mumbai and Tel Aviv was announced by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a visit to Israel last summer.

During a May 2017 Middle East tour, US President Donald Trump flew from Riyadh to Tel Aviv on Air Force One in a rare direct flight between the two countries.

Relations between the Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia and Israel have been gradually improving in recent months. Both find a common enemy in regional rival Iran and both are seeking to limit what they view as the Islamic Republic's expanding influence in the Middle East.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.