Saudi Arabia says it is lifting restrictions on “all carriers” using its airspace, in an apparent gesture of openness toward Israel following US President Joe Biden’s pledge to aggressively push for the normalization of relations between Riyadh and Tel Aviv.
The Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) said in a statement on its Twitter page on Friday that the country’s airspace was now open to all carriers that meet its requirements for overflights, in line with international conventions that say there should be no discrimination between civil aircraft.
The decision was made “to complement the kingdom’s efforts aimed at consolidating its position as a global hub connecting three continents,” the statement added.
The 79-year-old US president welcomed the “historic” move, which came as he is scheduled to land in Riyadh later on Friday, during a regional tour that he kicked off on Wednesday by visiting the Israeli-occupied territories.
“This decision is the result of the president’s persistent and principled diplomacy with Saudi Arabia over many months, culminating in his visit today,” US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement.
Biden is scheduled to meet Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman and other regional leaders during his high-profile Middle East tour.
In late 2020, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco became the first Arab countries in decades to normalize relations with Israel in a deal brokered by former US president Donald Trump. Saudi Arabia tacitly supported the deals, also called the Abraham Accords, but it did not openly normalize with Israel partly due to domestic considerations.
However, the kingdom is expected to jump on the bandwagon as the two sides broaden their interactions, despite Riyadh’s claims that it is committed to the 2002 so-called Arab Peace Initiative, which conditions normalizing ties with Israel on the establishment of an independent, sovereign Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.
In November 2020, Riyadh granted permission to Israeli airlines to use its airspace, hours before the first Israeli flight to the UAE was set to take off.
Palestinian leaders, activists, and ordinary people have repeatedly rejected Arab-Israeli normalization deals as “a stab in the back of the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian people.”
On Monday afternoon, a private Israeli jet landed in Saudi Arabia amid speculations that the Persian Gulf kingdom and the Tel Aviv regime might normalize diplomatic relations during the US president’s visit to the Arab country.
The aircraft, which was previously used by the Israeli spy agency Mossad, departed from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport and landed in the Saudi capital city of Riyadh, according to Simon Arann, a political affairs commentator for the Israeli Arabic-language Makan television network.
The report came a day after the caretaker Israeli prime minister expressed hope that the regime will establish formal diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia.
“Israel extends its hand to all the countries of the region and calls on them to build ties with us, establish relations with us, and change history for our children,” Yair Lapid said during a weekly cabinet meeting.
He asserted that Biden will carry “a message of peace and hope from us” when he departs for Saudi Arabia.
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