Bahrain opens airspace to Israeli planes, following Saudi lead
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Bahrain opens airspace to Israeli planes, following Saudi lead

Using Bahrain’s airspace could make route to UAE even more direct, though only if Qatari airspace is used as well

This picture from June 25, 2019, shows a general view of the Four Seasons Hotel (R) in the Bahraini capital Manama, where the "Peace to Prosperity" Workshop is taking place. (Stringer/AFP)
This picture from June 25, 2019, shows a general view of the Four Seasons Hotel (R) in the Bahraini capital Manama, where the "Peace to Prosperity" Workshop is taking place. (Stringer/AFP)

The tiny Gulf kingdom of Bahrain indicated Thursday it would open its air space to Israeli planes flying to the UAE, potentially shortening flights to Dubai by several minutes.

In an announcement carried by its state news agency, Bahrain’s Transportation Ministry said it would allow all flights to the UAE to cross its airspace.

The statement did not mention Israel, but came only a day after Saudi Arabia announced that it would allow Israeli overflights to the UAE, making direct flights between Tel Aviv and the Emirates viable by cutting flying time from some seven hours to only three and a half hours.

Bahrain, like Saudi Arabia, has no official diplomatic relations with Israel, but their decision to allow overflights marks a sign of cooperation with the Jewish state.

“Bahrain will allow all flights coming to and departing from the United Arab Emirates to all countries to cross its airspace,” reported the official Bahrain News Agency.

Bahrain would only be on the flight path between Israel and the UAE if flights were allowed over Qatar, which has not signaled any willingness for warming ties with the Jewish state.

However, a decades old agreement gives Bahrain control of much of Qatar’s airspace, according to a report by Axios, meaning the move could potentially cut flying time by about 20 minutes.

On Monday, an Israeli El Al jet flew for the first time over Saudi Arabia to the UAE carrying a US-Israeli delegation to mark Abu Dhabi and Jerusalem agreeing to formalize their long-secret ties.

The plane flew over Riyadh and then took a slightly circular route skirting the northern Omani border, before landing in the Emirati capital.

An overhead screen displays a map showing the flight route of an El Al plane from Israel en route to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Monday, Aug. 31, 2020. (Nir Elias/Pool Photo via AP)

The United Arab Emirates and Israel are expected to sign the US-brokered accord, Israel’s first with a Gulf nation and only its third with an Arab state, at the White House in the coming weeks.

US Presidential Adviser Jared Kushner speaks next to US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien (R) in front of an El Al plane at the Abu Dhabi airport, following the arrival of the the first-ever Israeli flight to the UAE, on August 31, 2020. (KARIM SAHIB / AFP)

US and Israeli officials have said other Arab states may follow the UAE’s lead to normalize ties with Israel.

Contacts between Bahrain — the first Gulf country to welcome the UAE-Israel deal — and the Jewish state date back to the 1990s.

Bahrain, like most other Gulf countries, shares with Israel a common enemy in Iran, which Manama accuses of instigating protests by the nation’s Shiite Muslim community against the ruling Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty.

On Tuesday, Bahrain’s king told senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, who is leading the normalization push, that Manama would only join up in concert with Saudi Arabia. Riyadh’s crown prince told Kushner later in the day that an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord must precede any normalization, in line with the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.

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