FM Cohen hails 'historic decision,' thanks Oman's ruler, US

Following Saudis, Oman finally opens airspace to all countries, including Israel

Gulf sultanate, traditionally a mediator between Iran and the West, makes move that will cut hours off travel to Far East, but does not indicate impending treaty with Jerusalem

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

This image made from video shows Oman's new sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, taking part in a cannon-fire salute outside the Royal Family Council in Muscat, Oman, January 11, 2020. (Oman TV via AP)
This image made from video shows Oman's new sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, taking part in a cannon-fire salute outside the Royal Family Council in Muscat, Oman, January 11, 2020. (Oman TV via AP)

Oman will open its airspace to all carriers, the Gulf sultanate announced on Thursday, allowing Israeli civilians flights to cross its airspace.

“As part of the Sultanate of Oman’s continuous efforts to fulfill its obligations under the Chicago Convention of 1944, the Civil Aviation Authority affirms that the Sultanate’s airspace is open for all carriers that meet the requirements of the Authority for overflyuing [sic],” tweeted Oman’s CAA, not mentioning Israel by name.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video message that the development turn Israel into “the central transfer point between Asia and Europe.”

Netanyahu added that work on opening Oman’s skies began with his 2018 visit to Oman.

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen called the move “a historic decision that will shorten the journey to Asia, lower costs for Israelis, and help Israeli companies be more competitive.”

He also thanked Oman’s ruler Haitham bin Tariq and the US government for their help in the months-long talks headed by Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

Last July, ahead of US President Joe Biden’s visit, Saudi Arabia opened its skies to all commercial flights. With the Omani announcement, Israeli flights can shave off two to four hours to popular destinations like India and Thailand.

The development could potentially reduce ticket prices as well, given that airlines would save money on fuel.

A screen showing the route of El Al Flight 972 from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv, crossing over Saudi Arabia, September 1, 2020 (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

Saudi Arabia began allowing Israeli airlines to fly over its territory in a special air corridor only for flights to and from the UAE and Bahrain after the Abraham Accords were signed.

Oman has long been floated as the next candidate to join the Abraham Accords. But late last year, its lower house of parliament voted to expand its Israel boycott law.

Assembly Vice-President Yaaqoub Al-Harethi explained that the amendment will “expand the criminalization and expand the boycott” of Israel, according to WAF news agency’s Twitter account.

During his 2018 visit, Netanyahu reportedly received a commitment from then-sultan Qaboos to open Omani airspace to Israeli airlines. However, the decision was walked back by Qaboos’s successor, Tariq.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) talks with Sultan Qaboos bin Said in Oman on October 26, 2018 (Courtesy)

“Haitham is much more cautious in his foreign policy because of his inexperience, and his preference to sit on the fence,” said Moran Zaga, an expert on the Gulf region at Mitvim – The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies.

Omani reticence around ties with Israel stems in some part from pressure from neighboring Iran.

Tariq will visit Tehran in the coming days to offer his mediation between Iran and the US on the stalled nuclear talks, according to Iran International.

Oman has traditionally served a mediating role. US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley was in the country last week.

Iranian and American officials also met in Oman in the years before the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal.

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