(Photo Credit: AFP)
Saudi Arabia is reportedly readying itself to allow commercial flights to and from Israel to fly over its airspace.
This includes direct flights for Muslims from Israel to Mecca to participate in the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
A CNN report revealed that Riyadh was planning to make the announcement this week as US President Biden visits the region on an official state trip.
CNN claims that the kingdom is expected to “allow all commercial flights to and from Israel to use its airspace and Israel’s Muslim minority to take charter flights directly to Saudi Arabia to participate in the Hajj.”
According to reports, President Biden said that direct travel was a “small symbol” and a “step towards normalization,” between Arab states and Israel.
The two nations lack official diplomatic relations, though in recent years, Riyadh and Tel Aviv have had several covert discussions, with reports indicating that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) has come to see Israel as a strategic partner against Iran.
Saudi officials have recently expressed openness towards Israel, making it possible for Riyadh and Tel Aviv to normalize ties.
One report by Israel Hayom suggests that Israel will agree to the transfer of two Red Sea islands from Egypt to Saudi Arabia.
This transfer deal was first reported by Israel’s Walla News on 23 May. The islands, which once belonged to Saudi Arabia, were handed over to Egyptian control in 1950 by Riyadh.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia have been negotiating over the islands of Tiran and Sanafir since 2018, when the Egyptian Supreme Court approved a bilateral deal to transfer the islands to Saudi Arabia.
Despite successful talks between Saudi Arabia and Israel, Israel’s then foreign minister Yair Lapid said on 30 May that Tel Aviv has been talking with the US and Gulf Arab countries on possibilities for normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia.
As part of these efforts, Riyadh has relaxed the entry rules for Israeli passport holders, with reports saying dozens of business people representing Tel Aviv have recently traveled to the kingdom.
Lapid’s statements were made following reports by Israeli media that reveal several senior security and political figures from Israel visited the kingdom over the past decade as part of US-sponsored efforts for the normalization of ties.
One of these secret meetings was between former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) in November 2020.
The meeting was also attended by former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and the former head of the Mossad, Yossi Cohen.