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‘Historic moment’: Air India flight crosses Saudi airspace to Israel for the first time

There will now be three flights weekly in each direction, ending a decades-long Saudi ban on the use of its airspace for commercial flights to Israel.

india Updated: Mar 23, 2018 16:53 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse, Tel Aviv
Saudi Arabia,Saudi airspace,Air India
An Air India Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner plane receives a water cannon salute upon its landing at Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel, March 22, 2018. (REUTERS)

Air India on Thursday launched the first scheduled service to Israel to be allowed to cross Saudi airspace, a sign of a behind-the-scenes improvement in ties between the Arab kingdom and the Jewish state.

Flight AI 139 landed at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport about 30 minutes after its scheduled arrival time of 1:15am IST.

“This is a historic moment,” Israeli transport minister Yisrael Katz told AFP on the tarmac as the Boeing Dreamliner rolled to a halt.

“It is the first time that there is an official connection between the state of Israel and Saudi Arabia,” he said in Hebrew.

Tourism minister Yariv Levin was also there to welcome the flight.

“A new era has begun,” he said.

There will now be three flights weekly in each direction, ending a decades-long Saudi ban on the use of its airspace for commercial flights to Israel.

Israel’s national carrier El Al currently operates an India service to Mumbai that takes a detour over the Red Sea to avoid flying over Saudi Arabia and Iran.

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

The flight approval comes after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described relations with the Arab world as the “best ever”, with common concerns over Iran drawing them closer together.

Leaders of Arab countries have not publicly made similar comments, though that does not necessarily mean they dispute Netanyahu’s claim.

They face sensitivities within their own countries, where the Jewish state is often viewed with intense hostility

First Published: Mar 23, 2018 10:27 IST