In first, India-Israel flight traverses Saudi airspace

By Said Amouri

JERUSALEM (AA) – Setting a precedent, an Indian Airways passenger plane touched down at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport late Thursday after traversing Saudi airspace.

According to Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, the flight set out from New Delhi at 12:30 GMT and landed at Ben-Gurion at 18:30 GMT.

India’s national carrier is now reportedly offering three direct flights a week between New Delhi and Tel Aviv, effectively ending a decades-long Saudi ban on the use of its airspace for Israel-bound flights.

Like most other Arab states, Saudi Arabia does not recognize Israel, meaning the two countries do not maintain formal relations.

Israeli Transport Minister Yisrael Katz welcomed the breakthrough.

“The first direct flight to Israel through Saudi airspace reflects the positive change that is gradually taking place in the region,” Katz tweeted Friday morning.

“I hope that Israeli airlines like El Al [Israel’s flagship carrier] will be allowed to use this route in the future,” Katz said.

The Saudi government, for its part, has not officially commented on the development.

On more than one occasion, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed that Israel’s relations with the Arab world are now better than ever.

The new air route between Israel and India was announced by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a visit to Israel last summer.

And during a January visit to India, Netanyahu asserted that the new air route over Saudi territory would drastically reduce flight time.