TEL AVIV – What was being hailed as a diplomatic breakthrough in Saudi Arabia’s relations with Israel was shot down before it even began with the Gulf Kingdom’s denial that it had given permission for Israel-bound flights to use its airspace.
Israeli officials on Wednesday claimed that Saudi Arabia had given permission to Air India to use its airspace, cutting down a Delhi-Tel Aviv route by two and a half hours.
Hours later, however, a spokesman for Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation said that no such authorization had been given.
No incoming or outgoing Tel Aviv flights have ever passed through Saudi skies, with the notable exception of Air Force One when used by President Donald Trump on his maiden Middle East tour last year.
The new route, if it were to go ahead, would reduce fuel costs for Air India and give serious competition to El Al, the only airline currently operating direct flights.
Saudi airspace has been closed to Israel for 70 years, with the two countries sharing no diplomatic ties. However, for years Saudi Arabia and Israel have shared intel and coordinated on security matters – all under the radar. There has also been increasing evidence of thawing relations in the past few months, but the news regarding Air India would have marked the first overt sign of warming ties between Jerusalem and Riyadh.
During Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent visit to India, he signed an aviation agreement with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in which the the national Indian air carrier received a 750,000 euro grant from the Tourism Ministry to operate a direct route.
The company is slated to begin flights this coming Passover and will operate three days a week—on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, working out to a 250,000 euro grant for each flight.