Are Israel and Saudi Arabia on the way to promoting normalization? “Maariv” has learned that negotiations that began about a year ago regarding the existence of direct flights from Israel to the Hajj in Saudi Arabia have led to a breakthrough, and that Riyadh is inclined to approve the move. Only Muslims living in Israel who wish to participate in the pilgrimage to Mecca will be allowed to board the planes, which will take off from Tel Aviv or Sde Ramon.
The Hajj will be held this year between June 26 and July 1. Last year about 2,700 pilgrims left Israel, and this year an increase in their number is expected, about 4,500 Muslims. Until now, most of the worshipers crossed the border into Jordan, and from there continued to ports in Jeddah or Medina. “Arriving on a direct flight to Saudi Arabia will be better and more convenient. It will shorten the waiting time for the onward flight at the airport in Amman, which sometimes lasts between an hour and five to six hours,” he tells “Maariv” Maher Ghanem Matiyyah, a member of the committee that organizes the departure for Hajj in Mecca.
However, he estimated that the expected discount would be marginal: “The main thing about the direct flights is that it will be more convenient to get there,” he explained. “We’ve been hearing about it for four or five years, and hope it will finally arrive.”
At the same time, people in Jerusalem are worried about the rapprochement between Tehran and Riyadh, among other things due to the fear of harming efforts to establish an anti-Iranian camp in the region. The two countries renewed their relations about two months ago, and recently even returned the ambassadors. However, according to estimates, this does not prevent future normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel. The political system believes that Riyadh wants to maintain the balance in its relations with China – which mediated and sponsored contacts between it and Iran – and with Washington.
According to reports in American media, Saudi Arabia recently presented four demands in exchange for strengthening its relations with the US and normalizing relations between Riyadh and Jerusalem: a defense alliance between the US and Saudi Arabia, an agreement to develop nuclear weapons for civilian purposes, an improvement in trade volumes and an end to criticism of Riyadh following the assassination of Journalist Jamal Khashoggi.