Saudi Arabia announced Wednesday that flights to and from the United Arab Emirates “from all countries” will now be able to use its airspace — a statement apparently allowing flyovers by Israel following a deal to normalize UAE-Israel relations.
The vaguely worded statement avoided naming Israel directly. However, the announcement came just days after the kingdom allowed the first direct Israeli commercial passenger flight to use its airspace to reach the UAE. Any direct flight between the two nations would need to use Saudi airspace to be commercially viable.
The statement makes no mention of the kingdom’s rival, Iran, nor Qatar, which Saudi Arabia is currently boycotting. Flights to and from those countries to the Emirates would, in theory, not need to use the kingdom’s airspace.
The Saudi Press Agency said the move comes in response to a “request by the UAE” for flights to and from the country.
Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan wrote on social media that the kingdom’s “firm and established position toward the Palestinian cause will not change.” However, even he did not directly name Israel in his tweet.
An El Al plane chartered to carry U.S. and Israeli delegations from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi flew over Saudi Arabia this week, the first official flight by an Israeli carrier over the kingdom.
In a video statement, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu welcomed the agreement with Saudi Arabia.
“For years, I have been working to open the skies between Israel and the East. It was spectacular news two-and-a-half years ago when Air India received approval to fly directly to Israel.
“Now there is another tremendous breakthrough: Israeli planes and those from all countries will be able to fly directly from Israel to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and back. Flights will be cheaper and shorter, and it will lead to robust tourism and develop our economy.
“It will do one other thing: It will open up the East. When you fly to Thailand or anywhere else in Asia, it will save time and money. This is amazing news for you, the citizens of Israel. These are the benefits of a peace that is genuine. I want to thank Jared Kushner and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed for today’s important contribution. There will be a great deal more good news to come.”
President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi of Egypt, one of two other Arab states to have full diplomatic ties with Israel, reiterated his country’s support for the UAE-Israel agreement. In a phone call with Netanyahu, el-Sissi said Egypt supports “any steps” that allow may help establish an independent Palestinian state and “provide security to Israel,” according to the Egyptian leader’s office.