Netanyahu promises direct Tel Aviv-Mecca flights

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is playing up warming ties between Jerusalem and Riyadh ahead of this week’s election.

“We will have direct flights for Muslim Israeli pilgrims from Tel Aviv to Mecca,” he promises in an interview with Army Radio.

Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have diplomatic relations, but clandestine ties have strengthened in recent years, as the two countries have confronted a shared threat in Iran. Netanyahu flew to Saudi Arabia in November to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the first publicly reported meeting between the two, as he hinted normalization with the Saudis could be close. Saudi officials have said a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians must precede its recognition of the Jewish state.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the annual Jerusalem Conference of Channel 20 in Jerusalem, on March 16, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

In the radio interview, Netanyahu also declared that Israel would “have no more lockdowns” following its successful vaccination campaign, which has seen over half of Israel’s population get the shots.

The prime minister also defends Israel’s transfer of vaccines to the Palestinians.

“We are one epidemiological unit. We transferred very few vaccines. This is a very important [move] that any responsible government would do,” he says.