Israeli athlete to compete in Saudi Arabia for the first time amid 'normalisation' fears
An athlete is set to become the first Israeli to compete in a race in Saudi Arabia this weekend, amid increasing speculation regarding the normalisation of ties between the two countries.
Shachar Sagiv, an Israeli triathlete, competed in the men’s triathlon at the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Saudi Arabia's neighbours Bahrain and the UAE normalised relations with Israel in 2020, amid widespread opposition in the Arab World.
Palestinians slammed the normalisation deals, pointing out that they rewarded Israel while it continued its brutal occupation of the West Bank and siege of Gaza.
Sagiv ranked as the fastest cyclist and the eighth-best competitor in the most recent competition in Toulouse, France.
"I am very excited to be a trailblazer by being the first Israeli athlete to compete in Saudi Arabia," he told the Sport1 website.
While Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have official diplomatic relations, they are believed to have worked together to counter Iranian influence in the region.
Riyadh has also recently relaxed its policy preventing Israelis from entering the country and has issued special visas to Israeli businesspeople, Israeli news site Globes reported in May this year.
Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia gave permission for Israeli airlines to use its airspace for journeys beyond the Middle East. At the time, Riyadh insisted the move was not an indication of warming ties.
Saudi Arabia officially rejects normalisation with Israel until a Palestinian state is established and the occupation of the West Bank ends.