Aerial view of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Aerial view of Riyadh, Saudi ArabiaiStock

Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) announced on Thursday night that the Kingdom's airspace will be opened for all air carriers that meet the requirements of "the authority for overflying", Reuters reports.

The decision is "to complement the efforts aimed at consolidating the Kingdom's position as a global hub connecting three continents and to enhance international air connectivity," GACA added in a statement.

While the statement did not specifically mention Israel, it came hours after a US official told Reuters that Saudi Arabia will soon allow unfettered overflight to Israeli airlines and permit direct charter flights from Israel for Muslims participating in the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement later on Thursday night that “President Biden welcomes and commends the historic decision by the leadership of Saudi Arabia to open Saudi airspace to all civilian carriers without discrimination, a decision that includes flights to and from Israel.”

“This decision is the result of the President’s persistent and principled diplomacy with Saudi Arabia over many months, culminating in his visit today. This decision paves the way for a more integrated, stable, and secure Middle East region, which is vital for the security and prosperity of the United States and the American people, and for the security and prosperity of Israel. The President will have more to say on this breakthrough later today, as we embark on his historic flight directly from Israel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia,” added Sullivan.

The announcement came hours before Biden is scheduled to fly to Saudi Arabia from Israel, where he will meet King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

On Wednesday, three Israeli officials told Barak Ravid of Axios that steps toward normalizing relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel are expected to be announced over the weekend after Biden meets the Saudi King and Crown Prince.

According to the report, the White House wants to discuss a road map for normalization between the countries during Biden's visit to the region.

Sullivan confirmed in a briefing with reporters earlier this week that the Biden administration is working on the issue, but he refused to go into details.

Reports in May indicated that the Biden administration has been quietly mediating among Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt on negotiations that, if successful, could be a first step on the road to the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

That month, Axios reported that Biden’s advisers Brett McGurk and Amos Hochstein were on a secret visit to Saudi Arabia.

According to the report, McGurk and Hochstein discussed increasing oil production, the Red Sea islands deal, further normalization steps with Israel, and President Biden's possible visit to Saudi Arabia.

Israel has been for years rumored to have behind-the-scenes ties with Saudi Arabia, but the Saudis have vehemently denied those rumors.

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Saudi Crown Prince reportedly held a secret meeting last November in which they discussed the possibility of normalizing relations between their two countries.

Subsequent reports said the Crown Prince pulled back from a normalization deal with Israel largely because of the US election result. Riyadh denied the meeting had even taken place.

Saudi Arabian officials have repeatedly said that a Palestinian state with eastern Jerusalem as its capital is a prerequisite for Saudi Arabia normalizing ties with Israel.