A commercial airliner flying to Tel Aviv crossed through the skies of Saudi Arabia for the first time on Thursday, ending an era during which Arab states prevented a direct route because of political tensions with Israel.
Air India flight 139 took off from New Delhi and passed over Oman before traversing the border into Saudi airspace, according to a tracking map on the Flightradar24.com website. It landed in Tel Aviv shortly after 10 p.m., a seven-hour flight.
Israel Transport Minister Israel Katz declared it a breakthrough. The flight is the “first civilian connection with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states,” he said.
The flight came 10 months after U.S. President Donald Trump flew directly from Riyadh to Tel Aviv aboard Air Force One in a demonstration of intent to resolve the 70-year-old conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is on a three-week visit to the U.S. and met with Trump at the White House.
Flying between New Delhi and Tel Aviv ordinarily takes nine hours because planes are routed over the Arabian Sea, flying west over the Horn of Africa to avoid Saudi Arabia and north across the Red Sea to reach Israel. The Jewish state and the Saudi kingdom do not have diplomatic relations.
Israel says that shared concerns about Iran’s expansion in the region have helped improve its ties with Gulf states in recent years. But Arab nations have striven to keep such contacts hidden from public view. Saudi officials made no public comment on the Air India flight.
Saudi Arabia still refuses to allow Israeli planes to fly over its territory and El Al Israel Airlines has appealed to the International Civil Aviation Organization, saying it’s suffering discriminatory treatment compared to Air India.
(Adds Israeli minister’s comment in third paragraph.)
–With assistance from Michael S. Arnold Alisa Odenheimer and Anurag Kotoky
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