In a fresh sign of warming ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, citizens of the Jewish state will from now on officially be allowed to travel to the neighboring Arab kingdom under certain circumstances, the government announced Sunday.
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri signed an order permitting Israelis to go to the kingdom to participate in business meetings or to search for investments provided that they have an invitation from an official body and have taken care of the necessary paperwork to enter the country.
It also formally allows Muslim citizens of Israel to travel to the Saudi city of Mecca to perform the hajj or Umrah religious pilgrimage. Israeli pilgrims usually travel for the hajj on temporary Jordanian papers.
The ministry statement said Israelis would be allowed to travel to Saudi Arabia for up to nine days, but an official later clarified that the permits would be for 90 days.
Until now, Israeli law banned citizens from traveling to many Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, without express permission from the interior minister, and increasingly common visits by Israeli businessmen were generally held secretly.
It isn’t clear whether the new order will in fact allow Israelis to visit Saudi Arabia, however, since Riyadh generally bars Israeli nationals from the country and hasn’t made an announcement easing those restrictions.
Clandestine relations have increased in recent years between Jerusalem and Riyadh, focused mainly on security issues, especially given the mutual enmity to Iran.
In July, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hosted a Saudi Arabian national, blogger Mohammed Saud, in his Jerusalem office, a day after the man was attacked by Palestinians angry with his pro-Israel views. Saud, known as a die-hard supporter of the prime minister, was invited to Israel by the Foreign Ministry as part of a delegation of bloggers and journalists from various Arab countries.
In September, Saudi Arabia harshly attacked Netanyahu’s announcement that he would annex the Jordan Valley and other parts of the West Bank, convening an emergency meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to condemn the planned move.