Saudi Arabia lifts flight ban may lead to Saudi-Israeli relations

President Biden said Friday that Saudi Arabia’s decision to allow Israeli airlines to use its airspace “can help build momentum for Israel’s continued integration into the region,” including in Riyadh.

Why is this important: The landmark decision marks the first time Saudi Arabia has allowed unlimited use of its airspace by Israeli airlines to fly to and from the country. Biden, in a statement, vowed to do all he can “through direct diplomacy and leader-to-leader engagement, to continue to move this revolutionary process forward.”

To note : Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid hailed the Saudi announcement and hailed the Saudi leadership’s decision, which he called a “first step”. Lapid thanked Biden and wished him success at his summit in Jeddah on Saturday.

The big picture: Thursday’s announcement came several hours after Axios reported that Israel had approved the parameters of a deal around two strategic islands in the Red Sea that were of great importance to the Saudis.

  • The islands and overflights deal, which the United States has been quietly negotiating for months, is a significant foreign policy achievement for the Biden administration in the Middle East.

Driving the news: Biden noted in his statement that on Friday he “will be the first president of the United States to fly from Israel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.”

  • The president will meet King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman on Friday evening.

What they say : The decision was taken as part of “Saudi Arabia’s concern to fulfill its obligation” under the Chicago Convention, a treaty which stipulates non-discrimination between civil aircraft used in international air navigation, according to a statement from the Saudi government.

  • It was also done “to complement efforts aimed at consolidating the kingdom’s position as a global hub connecting three continents and improving international air connectivity, the general civil aviation authority announces the decision to open the airspace of the kingdom to all air carriers that meet the requirements of the overflight authority,” the Saudi statement added.

Meanwhile, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan released a statement praising the decision.

  • “President Biden salutes and commends the historic decision by the leadership of Saudi Arabia to open Saudi airspace to all civilian carriers without discrimination, a decision that includes flights to and from Israel,” said Sullivan said.
  • He said the move was the result of Biden’s diplomacy with Saudi Arabia over many months, culminating in his visit on Friday.
  • “This decision paves the way for a more integrated, stable, and secure Middle East region, which is vital to the security and prosperity of the United States and the American people, and to the security and prosperity of Israel.” , Sullivan added.

Rollback: After the announcement of the Abraham Accords, brokered by the Trump administration between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Saudi Arabia allowed Israeli airlines to use its airspace only for flights to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Manama.

  • Saudi officials promised the Trump administration that they would allow Israeli airlines to use their airspace for all flights, but never implemented it.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with comments from Biden and Lapid. The headline has also been updated to reflect Biden’s comments.