The Trump administration has hoped Saudi Arabia would join the UAE and Bahrain in recognizing Israel and forging diplomatic ties, a move seen as increasingly distant in the wake of Joe Biden’s election as US president.

But Saudi leaders have hitherto indicated that Israeli-Palestinian peace will have to come first.

Riyadh announced in early September that it had “approved the request received from the General Civil Aviation Authority in the United Arab Emirates, which includes the desire to allow flights coming to and departing from the United Arab Emirates to all countries to pass through the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s airspace,” according to the state-run Saudi Press Agency.

The decision was seen as a nod toward normalization with Israel, after years of lobbying Riyadh to allow Israeli overflights. It came days after an El Al plane carrying Israeli and US dignitaries to the UAE was allowed to cross Saudi airspace.

Being able to fly over Saudi Arabia would significantly shrink flight times to India, China and other countries in the Far East where Israel is seeking to boost trade ties.

UAE carriers have already launched flights to Israel. Last Thursday, Netanyahu welcomed the first commercial flydubai flight to the Jewish state at Ben Gurion Airport, which marked the launch of its Tel Aviv-Dubai route.

“This is a moment of history because it is the first commercial flight between Dubai and Israel,” he said shortly after flight number FZ1163 had landed in Tel Aviv.

“There will be many more, going both directions. But you can only be first once,” he said at a welcoming ceremony in the arrival hall. “And this is a pivotal moment, because we’re changing history. It’s not that we’re marching forward, we’re flying, with breakneck speed, into a new era that is now clearly changing the Middle East.”

He added: “For me, it’s the realization of a dream.”

The same plane later in the day made its way back to Dubai, with some 200 Israelis on board.

The Emirati state-owned budget airliner is offering twice-daily flights between the two cities.

Earlier this month, Israel’s cabinet ratified a mutual visa exemption agreement with the UAE — the Jewish state’s first-ever such agreement with an Arab country. The agreement is expected to enter into force next month.

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