JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he hopes to slash flight times between Tel Aviv and India’s financial capital Mumbai, days after Air India ran the first scheduled Israel-bound service to cross Saudi airspace.
The flight from New Delhi landed at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport on Thursday in a sign of a discreet warming of ties between the Arab kingdom and the Jewish state.
“What we have done here is a breakthrough to huge new markets and this is a very big change,” Netanyahu told the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday.
“The goal that I hope to reach is that the next flight or flights will also include direct flights from Tel Aviv to Mumbai in five hours,” his office quoted him as saying in Hebrew.
Israeli national carrier El Al’s current Mumbai service doglegs over the Red Sea to avoid flying over Saudi Arabia or Iran, in a journey taking around eight hours.
Air India plans to run three flights a week in each direction after Saudi Arabia lifted a decades-old ban on the use of its airspace for commercial flights to Israel.
Saudi Arabia, like much of the Arab world, has no official diplomatic relations with Israel. Egypt and Jordan are the only two Arab countries to have peace treaties with the country.
During a May 2017 Middle East tour, US President Donald Trump flew from Riyadh to Tel Aviv on Air Force One in a rare direct flight between the two countries.
Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia and Israel have a common enemy in Shiite-dominated Iran. Both are seeking to limit what they view as the Islamic Republic’s expanding influence in the Middle East.