Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged if he wins Tuesday’s elections, he will launch direct flights from Israel to Saudi Arabia to ease the journey for Muslim Israelis making the Hajj pilgrimage to the holy site.
“I’m going to bring you direct flights from Tel Aviv to Mecca,” Netanyahu said in an interview with Channel 13 according to a translation of his remarks by the Jerusalem Post.
According to the report, Netanyahu’s comments suggested a fifth normalization deal with the Gulf kingdom was in the offing.
The so-called Abraham Accords, brokered by the Trump administration, saw four Arab Muslim states — the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan — establish ties with Israel in recent months. Speculation has been rife that Saudi Arabia is next on the list although Riyadh has denied the rumors.
Several other Muslim-majority nations, including Indonesia and Mauritania, are thought to be in talks about normalizing relations with Israel.
Netanyahu also repeated a pledge made last week that Israel would sign normalization deals with four more countries in the region.
“I brought… four peace agreements, and there are another four on the way,” he said.
“I pledged to take care of the citizens of Israel and I do so with a deep sense of mission,” he added.
While Saudi Arabia has remained reticent about establishing ties, in September it announced it would reverse its longstanding policy barring Israeli flights from using its airspace.
In a Facebook post in November, Netanyahu first made the promise that he would “create direct flights from Tel Aviv to Mecca for the benefit of Muslim pilgrims who are fulfilling the Hajj.” He later deleted the Hebrew and Arabic language post.
There are currently no flights into Mecca and most pilgrims arrive via Jeddah or Medina.
Muslim Arab Israelis who wish to visit Mecca are issued temporary Jordanian passports and make the connecting flight via Amman in Jordan. Netanyahu’s proposal could either signal that Saudi Arabia would now allow people to enter on their Israeli passports, or cut out the connection in Amman, or both.