Tel Aviv-bound flight carrying Israelis lands in Saudi Arabia after ‘technical issue’

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  August 29, 2023

Dozens of Israel citizens spend the night in Jeddah before flying to Israel from coastal Saudi city.

A Tel Aviv-bound flight carrying dozens of Israeli passengers made an unscheduled landing in Saudi Arabia on Monday after the aircraft faced a technical issue, according to Hebrew language media outlets.

Around 128 Israelis on board spent the night in a hotel in Jeddah before departing on Tuesday morning on a replacement flight that flew from the coastal Saudi city to Tel Aviv. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that he appreciated the “good neighbourliness” that Saudi authorities showed the Israeli passengers.

“I am very much appreciative of the warm welcome by Saudi authorities to the Israeli passengers whose plane faced difficulties and was forced to land in Jeddah, and I’m happy that everyone is coming home,” he said. 

The original flight, travelling from Seychelles to Tel Aviv, was forced to land in Jeddah due to a technical error that was not detailed by Air Seychelles, which operated the flight.

“All the passengers are safe and a few minutes ago, a replacement flight departed [for Jeddah so as] to return the passengers and continue their flight to Israel. The Israeli foreign ministry has been updated,” the airline said in a statement on Monday according to The Times of Israel.

The emergency landing is thought to be the first time a commercial flight heading to Israel has been permitted to land in Saudi airspace. 

In the past, Saudi Arabia, which does not have formal ties with Israel, had barred overflights from both Israeli and non-Israeli companies that were travelling to or from Israel.

Warming ties

Saudi Arabia has long said that Israel should settle its conflict with the Palestinians before it could consider normalizing relations. 

But behind the scenes, and increasingly through public overtures between bin Salman and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the two nations have slowly been inching closer to establishing official relations.

In July last year, Saudi Arabia announced it had opened its airspace to all civilian overflights only hours before Joe Biden became the first US president to directly fly to the kingdom from Israel.

Since then, flights to and from locations in the east such as China and India are now allowed to pass over the Saudi peninsula, cutting hours of flight time.

Although Israeli citizens are not permitted to enter the kingdom, Israel’s Channel 13 military correspondent, Alon Ben-David, travelling on a non-Israeli passport, visited Riyadh in July 2022 to see how Saudi people responded to him as an Israeli, and to gauge what they thought about normalizing relations between the two countries.

In August that year, Israel flights from Cathay Pacific and Air Seychelles entered Saudi airspace after the kingdom opened its skies to all Israel-bound flights.

In what would mark another step toward normalizing relations, Israel has continued to push Saudi Arabia to allow Palestinians with Israeli citizenship to fly directly to the kingdom to perform the Hajj and Umrah religious pilgrimages. But a deal has yet to be made.