JIDDA / JERUSALEM (dpa-AFX) – During the first visit of US President Joe Biden to the Middle East, Saudi Arabia opened its airspace to and from Israel, thus showing signs of relaxation. Biden called the decision “historic.” This is “an important step towards a more integrated and stable Middle East region,” he said Friday shortly before his flight from Israel to Saudi Arabia. The opening has also become a reality thanks to the months of diplomatic efforts by his government and Saudi Arabia.
The decision could help “promote Israel’s further integration into the region, including Saudi Arabia,” Biden said in a statement. He will do everything in his power to promote the normalization of relations between the two countries. Biden wanted to travel from Tel Aviv to Jeddah on Friday afternoon. This is his first visit to the Middle East since he took office a year and a half ago. The opening of the Saudi airspace is the first tangible success of the trip.
Saudi Arabia’s aviation authority announced Friday night that Saudi airspace would be opened “to all airlines that meet the Authority’s flight requirements.” Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have diplomatic relations, and the government in Riyadh does not recognize the country as a state. This is probably one of the reasons why the official Saudi statement did not refer directly to Israel. On the other hand, Biden’s message clearly mentioned flights to and from Israel.
“After a long and secret trial and intense diplomacy with Saudi Arabia and the United States, we wake up this morning with good news,” said Israeli Prime Minister Jair Lapid, who thanked Saudi leadership for the decision.
Under the so-called Abrahamic Agreements, several Arab states entered into relations with Israel through US mediation. Saudi accession is currently considered unlikely. Both countries have been working together for some time behind the scenes, for example on security issues. They feel threatened by their common enemy, Iran, and fear its growing influence in the region.
Originally, there was an almost total ban on flights over Saudi Arabia on flights to and from Israel. The Gulf Monarchy has already abolished this on flights between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain. Both Persian Gulf countries established diplomatic ties with Israel in 2020 through the United States.
The announcement now posted means reduced flight times for travelers from Asian countries such as Thailand and China, who previously had to endure long detours en route to Israel.
Biden wanted to fly from Israel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Friday as “Israel’s first president,” he highlighted in a guest article for the Washington Post. The journey is “a small symbol of the flourishing relationship and steps towards normalization between Israel and the Arab world,” he wrote. Former US President George W. Bush already flew from Tel Aviv to Riyadh in 2008, Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump flew the same route in the opposite direction in 2017.
Biden met on Thursday in Jerusalem with the new Prime Minister of Israel, Jair Lapid. The two then stressed that Iran should not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. Before continuing his trip to Saudi Arabia, Biden wanted to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday in the West Bank. Biden wanted to announce new financial aid of $ 316 million, a senior US government official said. Biden said the priority was to revive ties with the Palestinians that were severed under his predecessor Donald Trump.
Biden will once again express his support for a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, a government official said. By this is meant a separate, independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. However, no real progress was expected in the peace process, which has been idle since 2014.
In Jerusalem, Biden again had to justify his planned visit to Saudi Arabia. When asked at a press conference, he did not want to get involved in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Biden will meet King Salman and the Crown Prince in Jeddah on Friday.
During the election campaign, Biden promised to hold the Saudi leadership responsible for the murder and make it an “outsider.” Khashoggi was killed by a strike force at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in the fall of 2018. The American Secret Service makes up the Crown Prince
– de facto ruler of the kingdom – responsible for to./cy/jot/stz/cir/DP/stk