Is it possible that Israel, helmed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is cosying up to the Gulf monarchies? As much is the impression conveyed to the comity of nations with Wednesday’s decision of Saudi Arabia to permit UAE flights to “all countries” to overfly the desert kingdom.
In a critical sense, it signifies the normalisation of ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
The announcement follows the first direct commercial flight from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi on Monday, which passed through Saudi airspace.
This definitely is forward movement in geopolitics and in a volatile swathe of the world not the least in the context of Pakistan banning Indian overflights over its airspace, compelling airlines to take a circuitous route to the West.
More basically, Islamabad’s action is an expression of the relentless tension in the subcontinent. At another remove, the announcement by the monarchist capital of Riyadh is said to be a concrete sign of Saudi Arabia’s cooperation with Israel even after it refused publicly to follow the UAE in establishing diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.
The kingdom has accepted an Emirati request to allow the use of its airspace for “flights heading to the UAE and departing from it to all countries”. Easier connectivity is, therefore, central to the mending of fences between Israel and the UAE. Mr Netanyahu, meanwhile, announced that Monday’s historic first commercial flight of an Israeli aircraft to the UAE across Saudi Arabia would not be the last.
“Now there is another tremendous breakthrough,” he said shortly after the Saudi announcement. “Israeli planes and those from all countries will be able to fly directly from Israel to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and back,” Mr Netanyahu said, without giving any timeline.
“Flights will be cheaper and shorter, and it will lead to robust tourism and develop our economy,” he said.
Saudi Arabia has said it will not establish diplomatic ties with Israel until the Jewish state has signed an internationally recognised peace accord with the Palestinians. But with fresh winds blowing across the desert sand, the kingdom has cultivated what strategists have called “clandestine relations” with Israel in recent years, in a shift spearheaded by the de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
In a sense, therefore, the decision on overflights is concordant with the systemic changes that the Crown Prince intends to introduce. In a sign of its cooperation with Israel, Saudi Arabia saved the Israeli aircraft from a long detour around the Arabian peninsula.
“Today’s announcement signals the warming of relations between the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Israel,” was the response of Marc Schneier, an American rabbi with close ties to the Gulf.
“While they are still deeply committed to the Palestinian people, this first step is a big one and should be celebrated.” With countries of the Middle-east warming up to Israel, the position of the Palestinians is becoming increasingly fragile. And to think there was a time when nations in the region were prepared to go to war in support of the Palestinian cause.