Senior Israeli government official said today that he petitioned Saudi Arabia’s government to allow direct flights from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport in Israel to Jeddah for Muslim pilgrims to perform the Hajj.
“I took this matter up with Saudi Arabia and I really hope that day will come,” Israeli Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frei said in a radio interview.
The minister said he was hopeful for a possible new arrangement with Saudi Arabia ahead of the visit by US President Joe Biden next week, and that the Jewish state has been working to bring what he considered as “under-the-radar” communications between Jerusalem and Riyadh – based mostly on business interests and mutual concerns about Iran – more into the open.
“I want to see the day when I can depart from Ben-Gurion [airport] to Jeddah to fulfil my religious obligation” of annual pilgrimage to Mecca, said Minister Freij, who is a member of the Jewish state’s 18% Muslim minority.
Israeli officials are also interested in expanded permission for Israeli air carriers to fly through Saudi airspace to destinations in Asia.
When the UAE and Bahrain established diplomatic ties with Israel in 2020, Saudi Arabia signaled its acceptance by providing an air corridor thorough its airspace for Israeli planes flying to those Gulf states.
Even though Saudi Arabia does not officially recognize Israel, Muslim pilgrims from the Jewish state have been welcomed by Saudi Arabia for a long time now.
However, the Israeli pilgrims have travel to Mecca through third countries to perform the annual Hajj, with the week-long trip ending up costing them about $11,500. The pilgrimage cost for the devotees from the Arab countries is about half of that amount.
Saudi Arabia has said nothing of possible Saudi-Israeli developments during US President’s visit, but according to some sources in Washington, new aviation deals sought by Israel could be announced around the time of Biden’s visit.
The details of those potential bilateral deals still needed to be worked out though, and may not be finished in time, the source added.