As an Air India flight from New Delhi landed at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, history was made as this is the first time that a commercial flight has been allowed into Israel through Saudi Arabia as the Middle eastern country opened up its skies to Israel.
A diplomatic shift for Riyadh was reflected by the measure as the Air India flight 139 landed in Israel through Saudi Arabia. According to Israel, this shift in the policy of Riyadh has been driven by a sense of shared concern about the rising influence of Iran 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. Ticket prices would be reduced and travel time has been shortened by two hours for a flight from India because of the use of Saudi airspace, he added.
Israel is not recognized by Saudi Arabia which is the birthplace of Islam and also has the holiest shrines of Islam.
Granting of the Air India plane overflight rights has not been confirmed formally by Riyadh. It is yet not clear whether any of the Israeli commercial airlines would be allowed to make use of the Saudi airspace even though the shift in policy by Riyadh marked an end to a ban on using of Saudi airspace for all flights flying to or from Israel since the last 70 years.
According to the Flightradar monitoring app, the Air India Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner came within 60 km (37 miles) of the Saudi capital Riyadh as the flight flew over Saudi airspace at an altitude of 40,000 feet and it took about three hours for fly across it. The flight then flew over Jordan and the through the occupied West Bank and finally into Israel.
According to Flightradar, the airliner had earlier flown over Oman. The country also does not recognize Israel and there were no comments from Oman either. Its Indian competitor now has an unfair advantage, said Israel’s flag carrier which is still not allowed to make use of the Saudi route.
Levin said that he was confident that El Al would eventually be allowed to use Saudi airspace, during an interview on Israel’s Army Radio.
“You know, they said the Saudis wouldn’t let any flight pass. So here, the Saudis are permitting it. It is a process, I think. Ultimately this (El Al overflights) will happen too,” he said.
Israel is in further talks with Singapore Airlines and another from the Philippines for the possibility of any other foreign airlines being allowed to make use of the route to Tel Aviv used by Air India, he said.
“They are certainly showing readiness and desire to fly to Israel, and I don’t know if they will also receive permission like the Indian airline,” he said. Singapore Airlines did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Saudi officials could not immediately be reached.
(Adapted from Livemint.com)