As Ties With Sunni Arab States Warm, Israel Looking for Deal to Let Its Muslim Citizens Fly Directly to Saudi Arabia for Hajj Pilgrimage
Israel is looking to reach a deal that will enable its Muslim citizens to fly directly to Saudi Arabia from Tel Aviv for the annual hajj pilgrimage, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.
“Reality has changed,” Israeli Communications Minister Ayoob Kara — a member of the Jewish state’s Druze Arab community — told Bloomberg. “This is a good time to make the request, and I’m working hard on it.”
Under the current arrangement, most Israeli Muslims take long bus journeys through the deserts of Jordan and Saudi Arabia to get to Mecca, Islam’s holiest city. Also, a few hundred fly to Saudi Arabia via Amman every year.
Regarding a potential new, more efficient set-up, Saudi Arabia was “ready to do it, but it’s very sensitive and it’s still a matter of negotiation,” according to Kara.
During his first overseas trip as president in May, Donald Trump flew straight from Riyadh to Tel Aviv on Air Force One.
Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have official diplomatic relations, but behind-the-scenes ties have been growing in recent years.
In his address last September to the UN General Assembly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that in addition to Egypt and Jordan, which already have signed peace treaties with Israel, “many other states in the region recognize that Israel is not their enemy. They recognize that Israel is their ally. Our common enemies are ISIS and Iran. Our common goals are security, prosperity and peace. I believe that in the years ahead we will work together to achieve these goals.”