Contradicting Biden, Saudi FM Says Opening Airspace to Israeli Flights Is Not a Step Toward Normalizing

Biden said the move is the first 'tangible' step toward normalization

During President Biden’s trip to the Middle East, Saudi Arabia agreed to open its airspace to Israeli civilian flights, a move President Biden called the first “tangible” step toward normalization between the two nations. But the Saudis deny diplomatic ties with Israel are on the horizon.

On Saturday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan threw cold water on the idea of normalizing with Israel. “No, this has nothing to do with diplomatic ties with Israel,” he said at a press conference after the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Jeddah.

“The issue of overflights is a decision we took… in the interest [of] providing connectivity between countries in the world, and we hope that it will make some travelers’ lives easier. It’s not in any way a precursor to any further steps,” Prince Faisal said.

During Biden’s trip, Saudi officials also reiterated their stance that normalization with Israel is possible if a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians was reached. Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir told CNN that such a deal was a “requirement” for normalization with Israel, although a two-state solution is not realistic as Israel continues to expand its settlements in the West Bank.

Despite the comments from the Saudis, Israel insists that Riyadh’s gesture will lead to diplomatic ties. “What’s happening with Saudi Arabia is indeed normalization,” Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said Sunday. Recognizing the process could take a while, Lapid said the two nations are taking “baby steps” toward normalization.

Saudi Arabia agreed to open its airspace to Israeli flights after the US brokered a deal that transferred control of two Red Sea islands from Cairo to Riyadh. Egypt decided to hand over the islands a few years ago, but it needed the approval of Israel under a 1979 peace treaty signed between the two nations. A major aspect of the US push for more Israel-Arab normalization is to build a regional alliance against Iran.

Author: Dave DeCamp

Dave DeCamp is the news editor of, follow him on Twitter @decampdave.