Updated Jul 15, 2022 - World

Biden says Saudi Arabia lifting flight ban can lead to Saudi-Israeli relations

US President Joe Biden (L) and Israel's caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid, give a joint press conference in Jerusalem, on July 14.
President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid during a joint press conference in Jerusalem on Thursday. Photo: Atef Safadi/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said Friday Saudi Arabia's decision to allow Israeli airlines to use its airspace "can help build momentum toward Israel's further integration into the region," including in Riyadh.

Why it matters: The historic decision marks the first time Saudi Arabia has allowed unlimited use of its airspace by Israeli airlines to fly to and from the country. Biden in a statement vowed to do all he can "through direct diplomacy and leader-to-leader engagement, to keep advancing this groundbreaking process."

Of note: Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid welcomed the Saudi announcement and praised the Saudi leaderships decision, which he called "a first step." Lapid thanked Biden and wished him success in his summit in Jeddah on Saturday. 

The big picture: Thursday's announcement came several hours after Axios reported that Israel approved the parameters of a deal around two strategic Red Sea islands which were of high importance to the Saudis.  

  • The deal around the islands and the overflights, which the U.S. has been quietly negotiating for months, is a significant foreign policy achievement for the Biden administration in the Middle East.

Driving the news: Biden noted in his statement that on Friday he "will be the first president of the United States to fly from Israel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia."

  • The president will meet on Friday evening with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

What they're saying: The decision was made within the framework of Saudi Arabia's "keenness to fulfill its obligation" under the Chicago Convention, a treaty that stipulates non-discrimination between civil aircrafts used in international air navigation, according to a Saudi government statement.

  • It was also made "to complement the efforts aimed at consolidating the kingdom's position as a global hub connecting three continents and enhance international air connectivity the general authority of civil aviation announce the decision to open the kingdom’s airspace for all air carriers that meet the requirements of the authority for overflying," the Saudi statement added.

Meanwhile, White House National Security adviser Jake Sullivan issued a statement praising the decision.

  • "President Biden welcomes and commends the historic decision by the leadership of Saudi Arabia to open Saudi airspace to all civilian carriers without discrimination, a decision that includes flights to and from Israel," Sullivan said.  
  • He said this decision was the result of Biden's diplomacy with Saudi Arabia over many months, culminating in his visit on Friday.
  • "This decision paves the way for a more integrated, stable, and secure Middle East region, which is vital for the security and prosperity of the United States and the American people, and for the security and prosperity of Israel," Sullivan added.

Flashback: After the Abraham Accords, brokered by the Trump administration between Israel the UAE and Bahrain, were announced Saudi Arabia allowed Israeli airlines to use its airspace only for flights to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Manama.

  • Saudi officials promised the Trump administration they would allow Israel airlines to use their airspace for all flights but never implemented it.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from Biden and Lapid. The headline has also been updated to reflect Biden's comments.

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