Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that Israeli airliners have been given permission to fly over Sudan and Oman, as part of Israel’s drive to improve ties with the Muslim world, The Times of Israel reported.
“At this time, we can overfly Egypt. We can overfly Chad, that has already been set. And to all appearances, we can also overfly this corner of Sudan,” Netanyahu told Israeli diplomats in Jerusalem, pointing at a map. The Muslim-majority nation in northern Africa currently has no official diplomatic ties with Israel.
The prime minister added that, “When I was in Oman, Sultan Qaboos [bin Said] confirmed to me right away that El Al can fly over Oman.” As a result, Netanyahu explained, “only one small thing remains for us to do,” pointing to Saudi Arabia. “We need to get that El Al can fly over this, and that’s it — we open new markets.”
In October, Netanyahu paid a historic visit to Oman, after which the sultanate called on the Muslim Arab world to recognize Israel as a sovereign state. Israel is also said to be working toward normalization with other countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
“We are flying with Air India every day across Saudi Arabia, and soon we’re going to fly to Mumbai,” Netanyahu said. “Tel Aviv-Mumbai is fewer hours than Tel-Aviv London.” The Times of Israel reported on Saturday that the prime minister was hoping to formalize relations with Saudi Arabia before the next Israeli general election, which is scheduled for November 2019.
While important diplomatically, the change will have limited practical impact unless El Al is also allowed to fly over Saudi Arabia. In February 2018, the kingdom granted permission to Air India to use its airspace flying to and from Israel, but has yet to grant similar permission to Israeli carriers.
However, Netanyahu said he was hopeful this could change in the future. “When I meet with Arab leaders they tell me ‘We have security and economic interests and we also want to enjoy the fruits of progress and we will no longer mortgage our normalization with the State of Israel to the Palestinians’ caprices,’” the prime minister charged.
“This does not mean peace agreements yet, but it certainly says that a situation could be created in which our progress toward normalization and peace, instead of what we always thought, peace with the Palestinians [in order] to [make peace with] the Arab world, could actually be the reverse,” Netanyahu concluded.
[Photo: Prime Minister of Israel / Twitter ]