Sep 2, 2020 - World

Saudi Arabia to allow all Israel-UAE flights to use its airspace

Kushner speaks after landing in Abu Dhabi on Monday. Photo: Arim Sahib/AFP via Getty

Saudi Arabia has agreed to allow all flights between the United Arab Emirates and Israel to pass through its airspace, following lobbying from the Trump administration.

The backstory: The UAE had made a formal request of the Saudis as part of their normalization deal with Israel, which includes commercial air travel between the countries.

Driving the news: The first direct flight of an Israeli commercial airliner allowed to pass through Saudi airspace was El Al flight 971, which carried Jared Kushner and other officials from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi on Monday.

  • The fact that Kushner was on board made it much easier to obtain Saudi approval, but EL AL flight 972 the following day — from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv — also received approval even though there was only an Israeli delegation on board.
  • Today, the Saudi civil aviation authority announced it had agreed to the Emirati request to allow all incoming and outgoing flights to the UAE — from any country in the world — to pass through Saudi airspace.
  • Previous U.S. administrations had unsuccessfully lobbied the Saudis to allow Israeli airlines to use their airspace. However, this agreement applies only to flights from Israel to the UAE, and not to other destinations.

Behind the scenes: Emirati officials had engaged with their Saudi counterparts on this issue over the last two weeks

  • U.S. officials including Kushner, envoys Avi Berkowitz and Brian Hook, and White House official Adam Boehler were also involved in those efforts, sources familiar with the issue say.
  • Yesterday, Kushner discussed the issue in a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman, and the Saudis notified the U.S. team of their agreement.
  • The Saudi green light paved the way for an Israel-UAE civil aviation agreement.

What they're saying: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called this "a huge breakthrough" that would make flights to the UAE cheaper and thus bolster tourism between the countries. "These are the fruits of peace," he said, predicting that "more good news" would be coming.

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