Israel’s El Al Pilot Says U.A.E. Flight to Pass Over Saudi Arabia
A passenger aircraft. (Photographer: Alex Kraus/Bloomberg)

Israel’s El Al Pilot Says U.A.E. Flight to Pass Over Saudi Arabia

An Israeli airplane crossed through Saudi Arabian airspace for the first time on Monday as it carried a delegation of Israeli and American officials, including senior White House advisers Jared Kushner and Robert O’Brien, to a historic round of peace talks in the United Arab Emirates.

The kingdom allowed the breakthrough El Al Israel Airlines Ltd. flyover after the UAE and Israel agreed this month to establish ties -- a first between the Jewish state and a Gulf Arab nation. Talks during this first, 24-hour round will focus on economic issues, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said.

Ivanka Trump, the U.S. president’s daughter, tweeted a video of Kushner, her husband and a senior adviser to President Donald Trump, and O’Brien, the national security adviser, on the flight.

The opening of Saudi skies, closed because the countries have never had diplomatic relations, reflects the growing willingness by Gulf Arab states to publicly recognize their warming ties with Israel. At the root of this willingness to end decades of hostility is a shared antipathy toward Iran, which Israel and the Gulf Arab states deem a threat to their national security.

Yet the new bonds aren’t without growing pains. A public rift has already emerged over the potential sale of America’s top fighter jets to the UAE, a move that Israel says could compromise its military superiority in the region, which it owes in large part to advanced American weaponry. Both Israel and the UAE deny speculation that such a sale was a tacit part of the diplomatic agreement, and in a briefing to reporters on Monday, Netanyahu reiterated that point, as well as Israel’s opposition to any such deal.

Trump and Netanyahu are expected to discuss the possible sale of the planes “at some point,” Kushner, the president’s point man on the Middle East, told reporters on the flight to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE.

“The military relationship that America has with the United Arab Emirates is very special,” Kushner said. Israel’s qualitative military edge “is something that can be respected while also advancing our military relationship with the United Arab Emirates.”

Defense officials were left out of the Israeli delegation as the controversy over the potential F-35 sale persisted.

Instead, the delegation will be focused on opportunities for increased bilateral trade. The Israeli Finance Ministry expects commerce to grow from about $2 billion a year at the start to $6.5 billion as cooperation matures.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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