New Delhi: Saudi Arabia has granted approval to Air India to use its airspace to operate direct flights from New Delhi to Tel Aviv, indicative of a thaw in relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel, the Outlook magazine said on Wednesday.

It quoted Israel’s Haaretz newspaper as saying this is the first time the Saudis are allowing flights to Israel to use their airspace.

Outlook said that during his six-day state visit to Delhi, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had dropped hints that this would come true.

He told a group of Indian businessmen: “One of the things we are trying to do is promote a simple thing — an efficient and direct route between Israel and India, the kind we have between Israel and Silicon Valley, the kind we now have between Israel and China.”

Since Saudi Arabia does not recognise Israel, all planes flying from Israel to India and back are banned from flying through Saudi airspace.

The decision, which will be implemented next month, will shorten the flight time between New Delhi and Tel Aviv by two-and-a-half hours.

For 70 years now, Saudi airspace has been closed not only to Israeli aircraft, but also to those of other nations with a flight-path to Israel.

Agencies add: A spokesman for the Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation said the agency had not granted any permission to Air India to use its airspace for flights to Israel.

Published in Dawn, February 8th, 2018

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