“We will have direct flights for Muslim Israeli pilgrims from Tel Aviv to Mecca,” Netanyahu told Army Radio.
By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, implying that normalized relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia are on the horizon, declared, “I’m going to bring you direct flights from Tel Aviv to Mecca,” during a Saturday evening interview with Channel 13.
Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have formal diplomatic relations, but it’s widely believed that the two nations maintain under-the-radar ties, united by their interest in a non-nuclear Iran. The Gulf kingdom recently granted flyover rights for Israeli flights, a sign of warming ties.
With just three days until national elections, Netanyahu is putting his campaign into overdrive, emphasizing his massive foreign policy accomplishments over the last year.
Since August 2020, he has spearheaded normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, and has promised in recent interviews that more peace deals are in the pipeline.
But the reason Netanyahu is playing up direct flights to Saudi Arabia may go deeper than simply celebrating his foreign policy strength.
Netanyahu has invested much of his campaign focusing on extensive outreach to Arab Israeli voters, referring to himself by the moniker “Abu Yair,” visiting Arab municipalities, and producing Arabic-language content.
(The name of Netanyahu’s eldest son is Yair, and “Abu Yair” means “father of Yair.”)
In an interview on Sunday morning, Netanyahu seemed to directly address those whom he believes would benefit most from the new route – Israeli citizens who want to perform the mandatory Islamic Hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca.
“We will have direct flights for Muslim Israeli pilgrims from Tel Aviv to Mecca,” he told Army Radio.
In November 2020, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met with Netanyahu in Saudi Arabia. The two leaders never formally confirmed the meeting, which was widely reported on by both domestic and international media.
A Saudi source told i24 News that the royal family was rooting for Netanyahu in the March 2021 elections.
“[The Saudi royal family] not only prefer Netanyahu, but they love him,” the source said.
“He has the required charisma, and he knows very well what he is doing.”