Israel to Saudi direct flights for Hajj pushed back to next year

The Israeli government said last month they were working on a potential flights deal


Israeli El Al airline aircrafts are pictured on the tarmac at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport in Lod, east of Tel Aviv, on September 24, 2020. (Photo by Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP) (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images)

There will be no direct flights between Israel and Saudi Arabia during the upcoming Hajj pilgrimage, National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi said on Monday.

"Perhaps in the next Hajj we will be in a position for this to happen,” Hanegbi said in an interview that aired on Kan’s Reshet Bet radio.

This year's Hajj will be from June 26 to July 1, although pilgrims generally arrive in Mecca ahead of time and leave several days after the sacred period.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said last month that the two countries were working on an agreement to allow direct flights for its Muslim citizens to travel to Mecca for the annual pilgrimage. Foreign Minister Eli Cohen announced that Israel had issued a formal request and was awaiting the Saudi response. 

Muslim Israelis who undertake the pilgrimage have to travel through third countries such as Jordan, incurring increased expense on both the outbound and return journeys. About 18% of Israeli citizens are Muslim.

Allowing direct flights would be seen by the Israeli government as another step towards eventual normalization with Riyadh, which is a major foreign policy aim of the Biden administration. However, recent reports say that senior U.S. officials are not optimistic about this happening in the near term.

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