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Saudi Arabia Opens Airspace to Commercial Israeli Flights in Step Towards Normalization

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JERUSALEM, Israel – Saudi Arabia on Friday announced new rules that will allow Israeli planes to fly over its territory, lifting a decades-long ban on the Jewish state and marking a key step towards normalization between the two nations.

Interim Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid applauded the move, saying: "I thank the Saudi leadership for the opening of Saudi airspace. This is only the first step. We will continue working with necessary caution, for the sake of Israel’s economy, security and the good of our citizens."

Saudi Arabia’s decision to open its airspace to “all air carriers” comes as President Joe Biden visits the region and prepares to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Friday. 

Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have official diplomatic relations but have quietly developed informal ties in recent years due to their shared concerns about Iran. 

President Joe Biden said Thursday after meeting in Jerusalem with Lapid that he is working with Israel to build on its blossoming partnerships with Arab countries in the region.

During the Trump administration, Israel signed normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco in what has been called the “Abraham Accords.” Saudi Arabia did not join the accords, saying instead it will normalize ties with Israel following a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, the kingdom has allowed flights between Israel and Gulf States to cross its airspace. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also reportedly visited Saudi Arabia and met with the crown prince in 2020. 

Biden wants to build on the historic achievements of the Abraham Accords and excitement is growing in Israel over speculation that Saudi Arabia could soon normalize ties with the Jewish state – a move that would strengthen the counterbalance against Iran in the region. 

Lapid described Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia as “extremely important to Israel” and Biden said during a press conference on Thursday he is “optimistic” about steps toward normalization. 

A senior Israeli official told reporters on Tuesday that there is an impending announcement regarding the “immediate materialization” of a normalization process between Israel and the Saudi kingdom, The Times of Israel reported. However, Biden officials have been far more cautious, saying that normalization would be a “long process."

Israel is also expected to make gestures to the Saudi Kingdom. 

The Israeli government on Thursday approved guidelines for a deal involving the transfer of two strategic islands in the Red Sea from Egyptian sovereignty to Saudi Arabia, Axios reports.

The deal will pave the way for a second agreement with Saudi Arabia allowing Israeli carriers to transverse its airspace for flights to China and India, as well as allowing direct commercial flights to the kingdom for pilgrims who want to visit Muslim holy sites in Mecca.

CBN News previously reported that the Biden administration has been quietly brokering the deal and if successful, the agreement could be an important step toward Israel normalizing ties with Saudi Arabia and a major foreign policy win for the Biden administration in the Middle East. 

Biden’s journey to Saudi Arabia is the most controversial and closely-watched part of his Mideast tour. The trip is a major reversal of his campaign pledge to make the kingdom a “pariah” for its human rights abuses and US intelligence findings that the crown prince ordered the assassination of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Khashoggi's widow called the trip a “betrayal” in an opinion piece published in The Washington Post. 

Biden justifies his visit to Saudi Arabia as taking a pragmatic approach to foreign policy in the face of rising oil prices spurred on by the war in Ukraine.

It is unclear if Biden will be able to secure a pledge for more oil from Saudi Arabia. Even if he does, experts say such a commitment will do little to bring down oil costs because the kingdom already has a very limited spare capacity.

Still, Biden aims to present Saudi Arabia as a strategic partner in the Middle East and a key player in America’s competition against Russia and China.

“We have to counter Russia’s aggression, put ourselves in the best possible position to outcompete China, and work for greater stability in a consequential region of the world. To do these things, we have to engage directly with countries that can impact those outcomes. Saudi Arabia is one of them, and when I meet with Saudi leaders on Friday, my aim will be to strengthen a strategic partnership going forward that’s based on mutual interests and responsibilities, while also holding true to fundamental American values,” said Biden wrote in a Washington Post Op-Ed.

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About The Author


Emily Jones is a multi-media journalist for CBN News in Jerusalem. Before she moved to the Middle East in 2019, she spent years regularly traveling to the region to study the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, meet with government officials, and raise awareness about Christian persecution. During her college years, Emily served as president of Regent University's Christians United for Israel chapter and spoke alongside world leaders at numerous conferences and events. She is an active member of the Philos Project, an organization that seeks to promote positive Christian engagement with the Middle