Netanyahu confirms that Israel-UAE flights will cross Saudi airspace
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed on Monday that Israel is working on opening a corridor over Saudi Arabia for flights to the UAE, following last week's controversial deal to normalise ties.
"We are working with maximum energy, and we have already begun to work on opening an air route over Saudi Arabia, which will simply shorten flights between Israel and the UAE," he said during a visit to Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv.
"I estimate that we will reach an agreement that will genuinely allow direct flights between Tel Aviv and Dubai," he said. "It is a major revolution."
On Sunday, there were reports in the Israeli press that Saudi Arabia had agreed to allow flights between Dubai and Tel Aviv to pass over its territory.
In March 2018, Air India launched the first scheduled service to Israel that was allowed to cross Saudi airspace.
It was seen at the time as a sign of a behind-the-scenes improvement in ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
During a May 2017 Middle East tour, US President Donald Trump flew from Riyadh to Tel Aviv on Air Force One, in the first known direct flight from Saudi Arabia to Israel.
A surprise announcement from Trump last Thursday revealed that the United Arab Emirates and Israel have decided to normalise relations.
It is only the third such accord Israel has struck with an Arab country, and raises the prospect of similar deals with other pro-Western Gulf states.
The deal was widely condemned by Palestinians and their supporters as a stab in the back.
Regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia has been conspicuously silent on the deal, with no official reaction emerging from Riyadh.
Netanyahu said the deal would not only change Israel's aviation options, but also its maritime trade.
"Dubai has the largest free trade zones in the world," he said.
"Now these goods will - under the peace agreement - reach the State of Israel and lower the prices of products."
In letter to the UAE’s de facto leader Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin welcomed the deal.
"In these fateful days, leadership is measured by its courage and ability to be groundbreaking and far-sighted," he wrote in Arabic.
"I make no secret of my hope that this move will also serve as a beacon, illuminating the road ahead for others," he wrote, extending an invitation to Sheikh Mohamed to visit Israel.