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Saudis denied permitting Air India to use its skies en route to Israel

World2018-02-09

Saudi Arabia has denied granting permission for Indian planes to fly over its airspace en route to Israel after reports emerged that Air India has proposed using the kingdom’s skies for direct flights between New Delhi and Tel Aviv. An official spokesman for the General Authority for Civil Aviation (GACA) in Saudi Arabia was quoted by the state-owned Al Arabiya television network as saying that no permission had been granted. Saudi airspace has so far remained off-limits to Israel-bound commercial planes. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his arrival at the Air Force Palam airport Station in New Delhi on January 14. On Wednesday, an Air India spokesman and Israel's Airports Authority had said that the state-run carrier has requested slots for three weekly flights between New Delhi and Tel Aviv. The Israeli agency said the service would begin in early March. Air India was awaiting clearance from the Indian aviation regulator to fly over Saudi Arabia, the spokesman said. Israeli media reports claimed, without naming sources, that Riyadh had granted the necessary flyover rights, which would shorten the flight time from New Delhi by more than two hours. Saudi Arabia does not recognize Israel and lifting the 70-year-old airspace ban would have been an official confirmation of thawing of ties between the two nations. Several reports in the recent past have suggested that Riyadh and Tel Aviv are growing closer despite the absence of diplomatic ties, drawn by their common fear of Iran’s growing influence in the region. This has been credited to the shakeup of Saudi domestic and foreign policy, spearheaded by the young and ambitious Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. While Israeli officials and media have been more forthcoming on the covert interactions between Saudis and Israelis including on their reported cooperation on Palestinian policy, Riyadh has remained tight-lipped on the subject. Speculating on the Air India proposal, the Israeli media also reported that Israel’s flagship El Al airlines was waiting for official Saudi confirmation so that it could seek permission for its own flights over the Gulf kingdom. El Al flies four times weekly to Mumbai. "We at El Al, and I assume that other Israeli airlines share our view, hope and believe that Saudi Arabia will also allow Israeli airlines, who fly from or to Israel – and not only foreign airlines – to fly over its territory," El Al's recently appointed vice president Michael Strausberger was quoted as saying by Haaretz newspaper. El Al flies four times weekly to Mumbai but these take seven hours rather than five as they take a route south towards Ethiopia and then east to India, avoiding Saudi airspace. Israel's Tourism Ministry said it will grant Air India 750,000 euros for flying the new route, as part of its policy of increasing the number of airlines flying to Israel. Air India had made a similar request for slots to Israeli authorities last year but never followed through, after deciding that circumventing Saudi airspace was not economically viable. The Haaretz report speculated that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would come out as a “big winner” if the new route is indeed approved. “Not only would he be able to claim a major achievement thanks to his public diplomacy with India and secret relations with the Saudi leadership, he and his supporters could say that his vision of improved ties with the Arab world, without Israel having to make concessions to the Palestinians, was becoming a reality,” the report said. India's Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj (left) during her talks with the Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in Riyadh on February 7. The reports of the Air India proposal came at a time when Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj is in the Saudi capital to attend the annual Al Janadriyah Cultural and Heritage Festival. India has been named as the guest of honor at the 18-day fair. India and Israel have built close ties over the years, largely centered on arms purchases and away from the public eye. But under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose nationalist party has long admired Israel for its tough approach to terrorism, ties have flowered across the economy and last year he made a first-ever visit to Israel by an Indian prime minister. And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited India last month, the first such trip in 15 years. Modi will visit Palestinian Territories on Saturday, also becoming the first Indian prime minister to do so. (CGTN)

Saudi Arabia has denied granting permission for Indian planes to fly over its airspace en route to Israel after reports emerged that Air India has proposed using the kingdom’s skies for direct flights between New Delhi and Tel Aviv.

An official spokesman for the General Authority for Civil Aviation (GACA) in Saudi Arabia was quoted by the state-owned Al Arabiya television network as saying that no permission had been granted. Saudi airspace has so far remained off-limits to Israel-bound commercial planes.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his arrival at the Air Force Palam airport Station in New Delhi on January 14.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his arrival at the Air Force Palam airport Station in New Delhi on January 14.

On Wednesday, an Air India spokesman and Israel's Airports Authority had said that the state-run carrier has requested slots for three weekly flights between New Delhi and Tel Aviv. The Israeli agency said the service would begin in early March.

Air India was awaiting clearance from the Indian aviation regulator to fly over Saudi Arabia, the spokesman said.

Israeli media reports claimed, without naming sources, that Riyadh had granted the necessary flyover rights, which would shorten the flight time from New Delhi by more than two hours.

Saudi Arabia does not recognize Israel and lifting the 70-year-old airspace ban would have been an official confirmation of thawing of ties between the two nations.

Several reports in the recent past have suggested that Riyadh and Tel Aviv are growing closer despite the absence of diplomatic ties, drawn by their common fear of Iran’s growing influence in the region.

This has been credited to the shakeup of Saudi domestic and foreign policy, spearheaded by the young and ambitious Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

While Israeli officials and media have been more forthcoming on the covert interactions between Saudis and Israelis including on their reported cooperation on Palestinian policy, Riyadh has remained tight-lipped on the subject.

Speculating on the Air India proposal, the Israeli media also reported that Israel’s flagship El Al airlines was waiting for official Saudi confirmation so that it could seek permission for its own flights over the Gulf kingdom.

El Al flies four times weekly to Mumbai.

El Al flies four times weekly to Mumbai.

"We at El Al, and I assume that other Israeli airlines share our view, hope and believe that Saudi Arabia will also allow Israeli airlines, who fly from or to Israel – and not only foreign airlines – to fly over its territory," El Al's recently appointed vice president Michael Strausberger was quoted as saying by Haaretz newspaper.

El Al flies four times weekly to Mumbai but these take seven hours rather than five as they take a route south towards Ethiopia and then east to India, avoiding Saudi airspace.

Israel's Tourism Ministry said it will grant Air India 750,000 euros for flying the new route, as part of its policy of increasing the number of airlines flying to Israel.

Air India had made a similar request for slots to Israeli authorities last year but never followed through, after deciding that circumventing Saudi airspace was not economically viable.

The Haaretz report speculated that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would come out as a “big winner” if the new route is indeed approved.

“Not only would he be able to claim a major achievement thanks to his public diplomacy with India and secret relations with the Saudi leadership, he and his supporters could say that his vision of improved ties with the Arab world, without Israel having to make concessions to the Palestinians, was becoming a reality,” the report said.

 India's Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj (left) during her talks with the Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in Riyadh on February 7.

India's Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj (left) during her talks with the Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in Riyadh on February 7.

The reports of the Air India proposal came at a time when Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj is in the Saudi capital to attend the annual Al Janadriyah Cultural and Heritage Festival. India has been named as the guest of honor at the 18-day fair.

India and Israel have built close ties over the years, largely centered on arms purchases and away from the public eye. But under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose nationalist party has long admired Israel for its tough approach to terrorism, ties have flowered across the economy and last year he made a first-ever visit to Israel by an Indian prime minister.

And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited India last month, the first such trip in 15 years.

Modi will visit Palestinian Territories on Saturday, also becoming the first Indian prime minister to do so.

(CGTN)

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