More Middle East Aviation News As Saudi Arabia & Bahrain Open Their Airspace To Israel Flights

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More exciting policy and aviation developments are coming from the Middle East as even Saudi Arabia and Bahrain now seem to be warming up to the idea of opening their airspace to flights to/from Israel now.

A few weeks ago Israel and the United Arab Emirates (with the U.S.acting as a broker) have announced a full normalization of their diplomatic relations and the first flights have already operated between the two countries.

The new signal that even Saudi Arabia is opening their airspace to Israel flights shows that there has been a significant shift in thinking and policy in the region.

It can be argued that one part of the deal is the brokering from the U.S. administration but they’ve been trying to accomplish something for decades without much success. More likely than not the reemergence of Iran as a geopolitical threat has caused the thinking in traditional Middle East powerhouses to change.

Newsweek already reported that there is plenty of turmoil in the Arab League as well.

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday agreed to allow eastbound flights from Israel to use its airspace ahead of the signing ceremony for the U.S.-brokered normalization deal between the Jewish state and Abu Dhabi next week.

The significant change in policy came hours after the Arab League declined to endorse Palestinian’s efforts to condemn the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for the agreement, marking twin victories for Trump diplomacy and a blow to Palestinians.

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, who is also President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, announced Saudi Arabia opening their skies to Israel in a conference call to reporters earlier today. …

“They agreed to open their airspace not just to flights from Israel to the United Arab Emirates and back, but to all eastward travel,” Kushner said, adding that all Israel flights that ask for airspace permission will be granted it. …

Trump and Kushner have focused their Middle East strategy on building a coalition of Sunni Arab states against Shiite Iran, seen by many Arab leaders as a bigger threat than Israel. …

“Many people in the region are losing their patience regarding the Palestinian leadership,” Kushner told reporters Wednesday. He then called for Palestine to return to the negotiating table, but noted that America isn’t “going to chase them.”

The administration’s bet the Arab leaders have largely tired of the Palestinian cause appeared to pay off when Palestinian effort to secure condemnation of the deal between Israel and the UAE, failed at the Arab League. …

.Saudi Arabia’s “King Salman and the Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, they feel very strongly about the Palestinian cause. They would like to see the Palestinians work a fair deal and improve the lives of their people,” Trump’s son-in-law said. “But again, they’re going to do what’s in the best interests of Saudi Arabia and the Saudi people”.

The traditional powerhouses in the Middle East are already in a bind. These are for the most part states with an absolute monarchy and although there are councils, advisory boards and international corporations the current monarch, either a king or sheikh has total authority. And their power is fragile as some rulers have experiences over the last decade.

It’s in these countries best interest to try and get most unnecessary quarrels over with. They still have this ongoing situation with the Qatar blockade going on and who knows when that will end. Then there is Iran which from a regional stability perpective is wreaking havoc in the region.

Appeasing a key ally (the U.S.) in making some concessions to allow the Saudi and Bahrain airspace to be used for flights to and from Israel is a small price to pay for at least some short terms stability on the regional chess board.

Saudi Arabia is a huge country. To be able to utilize it’s airspace is highly significant when you have a look at the map:

This is the most direct route between the UAE and Israel but of course opening the airspace also has implications for flights to/from Israel on the Asia routes. Especially El Al flights do well to stay as far away from Iranian airspace as possible.

When I wrote about the Israel/UAE deal I said that this will be a thorn in the eye of Saudi Arabia, Iran and other sworn enemies of Israel and I’m sure Saudi Arabia doesn’t like this one bit. They do however know that they rely on U.S. protection in the region and giving in to this lobbying by the U.S. government would buy them leeway. This likely also makes operations a lot easier for Emirates flights from Dubai to Tel Aviv.

Had the Saudis rejected the lobbying it’d likely rub the administration the wrong way and if President Trump gets re-elected two months from now there is indeed a long term cooperative gain from this. If he loses and another administration comes in, Saudi Arabia could always find a reason to revoke the airspace rights again if they can find an agreement with the UAE about the whole situation. All depends on how sincere their original motives were to enter into the agreement in the first place.

Conclusion

I find the speed in which things now move in the Middle East remarkable. Nothing has moved there in decades and now the dominoes fall within weeks. Of course I’d be willing to bet that there is lots of diplomatic pressure from the White House to score some success in the last months leading up to the election but hey, from an outsiders point of view if that’s how they can get things done then all power to them. So far nobody else was able to find a solution as the policy of trying to please everybody obviously wasn’t helping.

If Emirates and Etihad both get into the Israeli aviation market that would be a huge convenience because so far everyone that was looking to fly long haul was in the predicament to either select El Al or one of the few direct flights if there are any at all. A connection with EK/EY would be much more convenient as it opens many doors. especially to Asia. Not sure how much the ailing El Al likes this development though.

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