Saudi Arabia opens airspace to Israeli flights

JEDDAH/ ABU DHABI    -   Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman met the US President Joe Biden at Al-Salam Palace in Jeddah, Sau­di Press Agency (SPA) report­ed on Friday. The meeting was attended by the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

King Salman welcomed Biden and his accompanying delegation to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. During the meeting, they reviewed the historical relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States and ways to strengthen them to serve the interests of the two countries.

Member of the Cabinet and National Security Advisor, Dr. Musaed bin Mohammed Al-Ai­ban was present during the meeting. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US nation­al security adviser Jake Sullivan attended the meeting from the American side President Joe Biden is on a landmark trip to the Middle East. One coun­try he won't be visiting, how­ever, is dominating the agen­da: Iran. Biden's itinerary includes just two countries, Is­rael and Saudi Arabia. Those are Tehran's biggest regional foes, and they are coming clos­er together than ever before, CNN reported.

The visit comes just weeks after Israel said that it was working with regional part­ners on an air defense alliance that is led by the US. Israel's Defense Minister Benny Gantz told the Knesset, Israel's par­liament, that he hopes the pro­gram will "take another step forward" during Biden's trip to the region.

Saudi Arabia has been pres­suring the US for security guarantees that would con­tain Iran should nuclear talks fail. The last round of talks in Doha two weeks ago result­ed in a standstill, with the US saying Iran added unrelat­ed demands to the table. Ear­ly on Friday, just hours before Biden was due to touch down in the kingdom, Saudi Arabia moved one step closer to nor­malizing relations with Iran's arch-enemy Israel by opening its airspace to all airlines. Is­raeli carriers were previous­ly barred from entering Saudi airspace on most flights.

US President Joe Biden was greeted by the Saudi crown prince on his arrival in the king­dom he said he would ostracise over its human rights record. Mr Biden gave Mohammed bin Salman a fist bump. The White House has said the president is trying to avoid handshakes to protect him from Covid-19. He has faced criticism over the trip in the wake of the murder of dissident Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents.

Meanwhile, The Kingdom on Friday opened its airspace to all civilian carriers, including all flights to and from Israel, in a step toward normalizing rela­tions between the two nations as US President Joe Biden tours the Middle East.

In a statement shared hours before he was due to fly direct­ly from Israel to Saudi Arabia, Biden hailed the kingdom's decision, saying that it could "help build momentum toward Israel's further integration into the region."

The Biden administration has for months sought to formal­ize security and economic deals between Saudi Arabia and Isra­el, in a bid to set the stage for a normalization deal between the two countries.

Riyadh is believed to have a covert relationship with Israel but has yet to officially disclose those diplomatic ties. In 2020, then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu report­edly flew to Saudi Arabia for a covert meeting with the king­dom's de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman -- a claim that was denied by Ri­yadh's top diplomat.