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29 January 2020

Israel wants it citizens to travel to Saudi kingdom, Saudi foreign minister says NO

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By Danish Ahmad Khan

Israel has sought to make its 'secret' ties with Saudi Arabia public now. But, Saudi Arabia has rebuffed Israel government's overtures saying that Israeli citizens are not welcome in the kingdom for now.  

Aryeh Deri, Interior Minister of Israel, signed an order on Sunday, January 26, allowing Israeli citizens to visit Saudi Arabia for business meetings and explore investment possibilities in the kingdom. This is though conditional, and depends on a formal invitation and necessary clearance from Saudi authorities, said media reports.

The order will also be applicable to Israeli Muslim citizens for traveling to Makkah to perform Umrah or Hajj. Earlier, they had to travel for pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia on temporary Jordanian papers.

A statement issued by Israeli interior ministry said that Israeli citizens will be permitted to travel to Saudi Arabia for up to nine (9) days. The ministry official however clarified that the permit for travel will be for 90 days.

Israeli law had until now barred the citizens from traveling to several Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, without express permission from the interior minister. Visits by Israeli businessmen had increased over past few years, but were generally held secretly.

In recent years, bonhomie between Israel and Saudi Arabia had increased clandestinely, particularly focusing mainly on security issues, especially due to mutual enmity to Iran.

Saudi Arabia had opened its airspace for a commercial flight to Israel in 2018 with the start of a new Air India route between New Delhi and Tel Aviv. However, Israel’s national carrier El Al Israel Airlines has so far not been allowed to use Saudi airspace for eastward flights.    

It may be noted that only two Arab countries – Egypt and Jordan – have peace treaties with Israel. The growing influence of Iran in the Middle East region has perturbed Israel for quite some time now thus leading to thawing ties with some major Gulf countries as well.  

Saudi Arabia has decided to open up and reduce its dependency on oil. Saudi Arabia had last year launched a new tourism visa for visitors from 49 countries, excluding Israel, aimed at giving significant boost to its economy and diversifying it further.

Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran are embroiled in a tug of war over the leadership of the Muslim World. So far, Saudi Arabia has been firmly in the saddle, but Iran’s expansionist designs in the Gulf region has unnerved it thus forcing to forge stronger ties with Israel and make the ‘secret’ relations public now.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has responded to the Israeli overture in the negative categorically saying it will not ease restrictions on Israeli nationals, who are generally barred from entering into the country.

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said Monday, January 27, that Israelis are not welcome at the moment in Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's holiest sites, reported CNN's Arabic website. 

"Our policy is constant. We don't have relations with Israel and holders of Israeli passports cannot visit the kingdom for now," Saudi foreign minister said. 

Currently, Saudi Arabia doesn't have diplomatic relations with Israel like most Arab countries, except Egypt and Jordan.

[Danish Ahmad Khan, based at New Delhi, is Founder-Editor of IndianMuslimObserver.com. He can be reached at indianmuslimobserver@gmail.com or on his Mobile at +91-9990179721]

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