YERUSHALAYIM - Direct flights from Israel to Saudi Arabia could soon become a reality, according to Communications Minister Ayoub Kara.
Kara said that he is working on an arrangement that would allow Israeli Muslims to fly to Mecca for annual Hajj pilgrimage.
The kingdom still has no formal ties with Israel, and direct commercial flights do not exist. But “reality has changed,” Kara told Bloomberg in an interview. “This is a good time to make the request, and I’m working hard on it.”
Until now, the approximately 6,000 Israeli Arabs who travel to Mecca must take a roundabout route: by bus for more than 1,000 miles through Jordan and Saudi Arabia to reach Mecca. Only a few hundred are permitted to fly from Jordan to Mecca.
This year, the Hajj begins on August 30 and lasts until September 4.
Although the minister said he hopes to arrange for a non-stop flight to Saudi Arabi from Tel Aviv, the route currently under discussion might have a stopover in Jordan or another country in the region, presumably to avoid offending Saudis and others who wish to have no direct contact with Israel.
The proposal is still far from reality, but Kara, an Israeli-Druse politician, said he has raised the idea with Saudi and Jordanian government officials, who are “ready to do it, but it’s very sensitive and it’s still a matter of negotiation.”