A shorter route to direct flights for Israelis to the Far East was one step closer Monday, as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced that Oman had given permission for El Al to fly over its territory on the way to India, Thailand and Hong Kong.
Speaking to a group of Israeli diplomats, Netanyahu said that “right now we can fly over Egypt, Chad, and it would appear Sudan. We are making earth-shattering advances. This is an unprecedented revolution,” the prime minister said, adding that Oman’s head of state, Sultan Qaboos Bin-Sa’id, had authorized the El Al flights over his territory.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in October visited Oman, where he met with with Bin-Sa’id, after visiting an innovation conference being held in the country. During the meeting, Bin-Sa’id said that his country was one of “several neighboring countries that are extending a hand to Israel and normalizing relations with it.”
In a joint statement, the two said that they “discussed ways to advance the Middle East peace process and discussed a number of issues of mutual interest to achieve peace and stability in the Middle East.”
At this time the benefit to El Al is theoretical, because in order to get to Oman, on the eastern side of the Arabian Peninsula, El Al planes would have to fly over Saudi Arabia – and that country has yet to give El Al permission to fly over it.
Earlier this year, El Al filed a petition with the High Court seeking to force the state, the Transport Ministry and the Airports Authority to withdraw the license granted to Air India for its new flights from New Delhi, which pass over Saudi Arabia – unless it could be arranged for El Al flights to Mumbai to fly over that country as well. In its petition, El Al said that it was being “discriminated” against, and that the state was allowing that discrimination to take place.
“The state has agreed to something unprecedented, agreeing to allow a foreign carrier to use a route that its own national carrier cannot,” the El Al petition said. “This not only violates promises made by the government to our company, it is also discriminatory, forcing our customers to fly a lengthier route. We too want to fly over Saudi Arabia. There is no precedent for this situation anywhere in the world.” The Israeli airline later withdrew the petition, after the High Court conducted a pre-trial hearing in which it indicated that the petition would be rejected.
Despite that, officials on Monday told Hadashot News that Israel was still pursuing the possibility of El Al flights over Saudi Arabia. A report Sunday said that Netanyahu was working towards normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia.
According to the report, Israel and Saudi Arabia have maintained behind the scenes relations for some time, and Netanyahu would like to make the relationship official – preferably before elections are held in Israel. The Prime Minister’s Office had no comment on the report.
Speaking Monday, Netanyahu said that “the diplomatic map for Israel has changed dramatically because of Israel’s advantages in intelligence and other areas. We prevent planes from crashing, we have prevented dozens of catastrophic terror attacks. No one has intelligence like us. The combination of our technology and intelligence gives us a growing map of international relations,” he added.