U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday thanked Sultan of Oman Haitham bin Tariq Al Said for opening his country’s airspace to Israeli civilian flights.
In a phone call, Biden “welcomed Oman’s recent decision to open its airspace to all civilian aircraft, including those flying to and from Israel,” according to the White House.
The two leaders “reaffirmed the longstanding historical ties between [their] countries and peoples, and discussed mutual efforts to forge a more prosperous, peaceful, and integrated Middle East region,” the statement continued.
Muscat announced the move in February following months of talks between the Israeli Foreign Ministry and authorities in Oman, and after Saudi Arabia last July announced during Biden’s visit to Israel the opening of its airspace to “all carriers,” paving the way for Israeli commercial airlines to overfly the kingdom.
The Saudi move had hitherto proved largely symbolic, as shortening flight times between Israel and countries such as India and China required a similar authorization from Oman.
Days after the announcement, an El Al Boeing 787 Dreamliner heading from Tel Aviv for Bangkok became the first Israeli commercial flight to cross Omani airspace. The new route shortens flight times between Israel and Thailand by three hours, and substantially reduces flight times to several other far eastern countries. For instance, a flight to India now takes five-and-a-half hours instead of eight and a half.
The shorter routes are expected to reduce ticket prices by cutting fuel and personnel costs.
“The Far East is not so far away and the skies are no longer the limit. This is a day of great news for Israeli aviation. Israel has, in effect, become the main transit point between Asia and Europe,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in response to Oman’s decision.
“We have worked to open the airspace, first over Saudi Arabia, and from 2018 when I visited Oman, to add Oman as well so that we can fly directly to India and on to Australia. This was achieved today, after considerable effort, including in recent months. Here is good news—Israel is opening up to the east on an unprecedented scale,” added the prime minister.
Neither Oman nor Saudi Arabia has signed onto the Abraham Accords, the Trump administration-brokered agreements that normalized Israel’s relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.
However, Netanyahu said last month that he was actively courting Riyadh in an effort to persuade it to join in the accords as that would constitute a “quantum leap” towards regional peace.
“Obviously, the next step could be not just another country but a quantum leap in expanding the circle of peace, and I’m talking of course about peace with Saudi Arabia,” said Netanyahu. “I think that if we can achieve this, maybe through gradual steps, maybe it will take some normalization steps, it will change Israel’s relationship with the rest of the Arab world.”
According to reports, Israel is currently working to expand the Abraham Accords with four additional nations—Mauritania, Somalia, Niger and Indonesia.
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