Israeli planes can use Omani, Sudanese airspace, Netanyahu says
1 more small thing to do, says PM, pointing to Saudi on map

Israeli planes can use Omani, Sudanese airspace, Netanyahu says

Without similar permission from the Saudis, Muscat’s promise seems purely symbolic, as sultanate borders on states with no diplomatic ties to Israel

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday said Israeli planes can fly over Sudan and Oman, adding that he is working on getting Saudi Arabia’s permission for this as well.

“When I was in Oman, Sultan Qaboos [bin Said] confirmed to me right away that El Al can fly over Oman,” the prime minister told Israeli diplomats in Jerusalem.

“Therefore, only one small thing remains for us to do,” he added, pointing to Saudi Arabia on a map. “We need to get that El Al can fly over this, and that’s it — we open new markets.”

Netanyahu also indicated that Israel is allowed to fly over Sudan — a Muslim-majority nation in northern Africa that does not have diplomatic ties with Israel.

“Currently we can fly over Egypt, Chad, and apparently, we can fly over Sudan, and then we can fly directly to Brazil, which would save about two hours,” he said.

In October, Oman welcomed the Israeli premier in a surprise visit, which marked an apparent sign of Israeli progress in improving ties with the Gulf states.

Israel is also said to be working toward normalization of relations with other states in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

Given Oman’s location on the southeastern coast of the Arabian peninsula, bordering Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — all states that have no diplomatic ties with Israel — the sultan’s promise currently has no practical implication.

The most important routes for Israel are those connecting Tel Aviv and San Francisco, China and India, Netanyahu, who is also foreign minister, noted.

“We are flying with Air India every day across Saudi Arabia, and soon we’re going to fly to Mumbai,” he said. “Tel Aviv-Mumbai is fewer hours than Tel-Aviv London,” he said.

A Boeing 787 flight number AI139 of Indian national carrier Air India, from New Delhi, performs maneuvers on the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, on March 22, 2018 after using Saudi airspace for the first time. (AFP PHOTO/JACK GUEZ)

“When I meet with Arab leaders they tell me ‘We have security and economic interests and we also want to enjoy the fruits of progress and we will no longer mortgage our normalization with the State of Israel to the Palestinians’ caprices,'” Netanyahu said.

“This does not mean peace agreements yet, but it certainly says that a situation could be created in which our progress toward normalization and peace, instead of what we always thought, peace with the Palestinians [in order] to [make peace with] the Arab world, could actually be the reverse,” he added.

“I will not mortgage peace with the Arab world on peace with the Palestinians. We are trying, and we will yet try, but one does not determine the other,” the prime minister said.

PM Netanyahu addressing Israeli diplomats in Jerusalem, December 10, 2018 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

During a rare appearance at the Foreign Ministry, Netanyahu also indicated to the annual ambassadors’ conference that he does not see any reason to appoint a full-time foreign minister in his stead.

“It works very nicely, thanks to the people,” he responded after a diplomat asked him if he intends to appoint a foreign minister in the near future.

Besides serving as prime minister and foreign minister, Netanyahu currently also holds the defense, immigrant absorption, and health portfolios.

On Saturday, Hadashot TV news reported that Netanyahu was seeking to formalize and publicize relations with Saudi Arabia before the next Israeli general election.

The report said the United States and Mossad chief Yossi Cohen were involved in the diplomatic effort, though no further details were provided.

The next general elections in Israel are scheduled for November 2019, though many in the political establishment believe they will be moved to earlier in the year.

A senior diplomatic source told Hadashot that Israel was conducting extensive talks with many Arab nations, based on a shared interest in countering Iran.

The Prime Minister’s Office did not comment on the report.

Netanyahu has for years spoken about the warming of ties between Israel and the Arab world, citing not only Iran as a common enemy, but also many countries’ interest in cooperating with Israel on security and defense matters, as well as Israel’s growing high-tech industry.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Future Investment Initiative conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh on October 24, 2018. (Giuseppe Cacace/AFP)

In November, Netanyahu welcomed Chadian President Idriss Déby for a historic visit to the Jewish state, laying the groundwork for normalizing ties with the Muslim-majority countries of Sudan, Mali, and Niger, according to a report on Israel’s Channel 10 News.

Déby told Israeli leaders in Jerusalem that he wishes to restore diplomatic relations. During a press conference with Déby, Netanyahu remarked that “there will be more such visits in Arab countries very soon,” without providing details.

Other reports said Israel is also working to normalize relations with Bahrain.

Netanyahu stressed that previous leaders had attempted to strengthen Israel’s international standing with “dangerous concessions, including uprooting communities,” referring to the 2005 disengagement plan by former prime minister Ariel Sharon, in which all settlements in the Gaza Strip were dismantled.

“That hasn’t happened — and won’t happen — with me,” Netanyahu said. “The exact opposite is happening. We are getting the world’s support, including by many in the Arab world, through our strong and steadfast standing.

“We believe in peace out of strength; we believe in alliances born out of Israel’s value as a technological, financial, defense, and intelligence powerhouse,” he added. “That’s what we will continue doing, and that’s also how we’ll achieve peace.”

Israel’s ongoing thawing of relations with various Arab and Muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa is said to be sending Palestinian Authority officials scrambling, concerned that support for their cause is waning among allies.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s senior adviser Nabil Shaath told the Haaretz daily that Ramallah is seeking to convene emergency sessions of the Arab League and Organization of Islamic Cooperation as it worries that countries such as Chad, Sudan, Bahrain, Oman, and Saudi Arabia are moving closer toward normalization with Jerusalem — relations that would counter resolutions passed by the two umbrella bodies.

Netanyahu reportedly urged Washington not to abandon its support for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman following the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.

A report in The Washington Post said Netanyahu told Trump administration officials that the crown prince was a key strategic partner and a linchpin of the alliance against Iranian encroachment in the region.

In public comments on the death of Khashoggi, the Israeli leader called the killing “horrendous” but stressed that “it is very important for the stability of the region and the world that Saudi Arabia remain stable.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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