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PM predicts 'a great wave of tourism in both directions'

Israel working on direct Dubai route flying over Saudi Arabia – Netanyahu

FM Ashkenazi speaks by phone with Omani counterpart, who calls for Palestinian state, as speculation swirls that Muscat could follow UAE’s lead

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Transportation Minister Miri Regev during a visit to Ben Gurion Airport, August 17, 2020. (Facebook)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Transportation Minister Miri Regev during a visit to Ben Gurion Airport, August 17, 2020. (Facebook)

Israel is working to establish direct flights between Tel Aviv and the United Arab Emirates by flying over Saudi Arabia, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday.

He was commenting on some of the expected benefits of the normalization of ties with the UAE as he visited Ben Gurion Airport with Transportation Minister Miri Regev.

“We are now working on allowing direct flights between Tel Aviv and Dubai and Abu Dhabi, over Saudi Arabia,” Netanyahu said, noting that he believed an agreement would be reached. “It is a very short flight, around three hours, like a flight to Rome, but it will change Israeli air travel and the Israeli economy with a great wave of tourism in both directions, with investments of great magnitude.”

Israel does not have formal ties with Saudi Arabia and Israeli planes can generally not fly over its territory, although the two countries reportedly have behind-the-scenes cooperation on some matters, in particular security.

“The Emirates are very interested in massive investments in technology in Israel,” Netanyahu continued and said that cheap products manufactured in Emirati free trade zones will become available for Israeli consumers.

“It is a boost to the Israeli economy that will benefit every citizen,” he said.

Oman’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Yousef bin Alawi bin Abdullah speaks during the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 23, 2017, UN headquarters. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Regev said the opening of diplomatic ties with the UAE was “great news for the Israeli economy.”

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor, a billionaire real estate tycoon and philanthropist, told Channel 13 that he was already in talks with Israeli airline Israir on establishing direct flights.

Also on Monday, Omani Foreign Minister Yousef bin Alawi spoke on the phone with his Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi, in the first conversation of its kind between the two top diplomats, as analysts predicted his country could be among the first to follow Abu Dhabi’s path in normalizing ties with Jerusalem.

The Omani statement on the call said “the Sultanate’s firm and supportive position was clearly expressed on the need to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, as well as the need to resume the peace process negotiations and fulfill the legitimate demands of the Palestinian people to establish their independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital. This is consistent with the Arab position.”

In Ashkenazi’s own statement on the conversation, the foreign minister said he “expressed [his] deep appreciation for the commitment of Oman and Foreign Minister bin Ali to peace and stability in the Middle East.”

“We agreed to maintain direct and continual contact and to continue the important dialogue between our two countries,” Ashkenazi added. “This conversation is the continuation of a conversation I had yesterday with my counterpart from the UAE, Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Ben Zayed.”

The Omani Foreign Ministry said that bin Alawi also spoke to Fatah Secretary General Jibril Rajoub “during which the Palestinian official expressed his appreciation and assurance of the Sultanate’s role, as well as its balanced and wise policy toward Arab issues, foremost of which is the Palestinian cause.”

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

Netanyahu visited Oman in 2018, the first trip by an Israeli leader in over two decades, in what was seen as a sign of warming ties between the Jewish state and the Sunni Arab world.

Oman on Friday said it backed the normalization of ties between neighboring UAE and Israel, expressing hope that the move would help achieve lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Bahrain has also been cited as a nation that may be on the path toward formalizing relations. Senior Israeli officials told Hebrew-language media that they were in advanced talks with Bahrain about normalizing ties with the Gulf state.

Earlier Monday, President Reuven Rivlin extended an invitation to the de facto leader of the UAE to visit Israel, after the two countries agreed on normalization.

Rivlin’s invitation to the crown prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, was sent in Arabic and came days after the announcement of a landmark deal between Israel and the UAE on forging diplomatic ties.

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