TEL AVIV – Saudi Arabia opened its airspace for the first time to a commercial flight to Israel with the inauguration on Thursday of an Air India route between New Delhi and Tel Aviv.
Air India 139 landed at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport after a flight of over 7-1/2 hours, marking a diplomatic shift for Riyadh that Israel says was fueled by shared concern over Iranian influence in the region.
“This is a really historic day that follows two years of very, very intensive work,” Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said in a radio interview, adding that using Saudi airspace cut travel time to India by around two hours and would reduce ticket prices.
Saudi Arabia – birthplace of Islam and home to its holiest shrines – does not recognize Israel.
Riyadh has not formally confirmed granting the Air India plane overflight rights. While the move ended a 70-year-old ban on planes flying to or from Israel through Saudi airspace, there is as yet no indication that it will be applied for any Israeli airline.