Omani airspace refusal causes losses for Israel

GT: The Israeli airline Arkia has been forced to cancel its flights to India and other Asian countries and give customers refunds due to a continued refusal by Oman to let Israeli commercial planes fly over its territory.

Israeli airlines received permission from Saudi Arabia to fly over its territory to destinations outside the Gulf in August. They hoped that this would dramatically shorten flying times from Israel to destinations in Asia and save fuel costs.

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However, Oman refused to give Israeli planes permission to fly through its airspace, forestalling their plans to take a shorter route to India and east Asian countries such as Thailand.

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Israeli planes heading to Asian destinations currently have to fly a circuitous route over the Red Sea.

The continued Omani ban on Israeli flights over its territory has caused severe losses for Arkia, forcing it to cancel flights and return money to customers who reserved flights to Asia after Riyadh granted overflight permission.

Israel had lobbied for years for Saudi Arabia to grant its planes overflight rights. It finally secured them in August following negotiations mediated by the US.

However, the Omani refusal to grant the same overflight rights as Saudi Arabia was not only unexpected, but also meant that Israeli airlines could not take advantage of the Saudi gesture.

The Israeli news website Ynet News quoted Arkia CEO Oz Berlowitz as saying, “Unfortunately, in light of the lack of approval to fly over Oman and take the short route to the east, we had to postpone the opening of flights to India at this stage.”

Berlowitz called on Israeli transport minister Merav Michaeli to “exert all her efforts on the opening of the air passage over Oman, which will bring about a dramatic change in Israeli aviation to the east”.

Since 2020, Gulf states the UAE and Bahrain have normalised relations with Israel and there is strong speculation that Saudi Arabia and Oman may also follow suit.

However, unlike other Gulf countries, Oman has close ties with Iran and it is believed that Iranian pressure was behind its decision not to open its airspace to Israeli airlines.

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