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An Air Seychelles flight to Israel was forced to make an emergency landing at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Saudi Arabia on Monday evening. Flight HM22 diverted to Jeddah while flying over the Red Sea due to a technical electrical malfunction of the plane. There were 128 Israelis on board.
The situation was closely monitored by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, as Israel does not have diplomatic ties or air links with the Saudi Kingdom, and Israelis are officially restricted from traveling to Saudi Arabia.
“When they announced on the flight that we were landing in Saudi Arabia, it was really scary,” said Sharon Licht-Patren, a passenger on the flight. “It wasn’t clear what would happen. Every now and then, the captain updated us that they were in contact with the Foreign Ministry and the authorities and that there still wasn’t approval to get off the plane. We were stuck for more than three hours without electricity or working toilets.”
Saudi officials soon escorted the Israeli passengers to an airport hotel, where they spent the night. A replacement plane was sent from Dubai to pick up the passengers, and they arrived safely in Israel on Tuesday.
Israeli passengers were pleasantly surprised by the treatment they received from their Saudi hosts. “There was concern, but it turns out that Saudi Arabia is really surprising. We were told we were welcome. We didn’t expect it,” said Emmanuel Carmel in an interview with Israeli Radio 103FM.
Israeli passengers say they are treated courteously in Jeddah International Airport pic.twitter.com/qHtW4Dkdq4
— Haisam Hassanein (@HaisamHassanei1) August 29, 2023
Another passenger, Chen Giladi, told Ynet, “They took us in buses to a lovely hotel at the terminal and they treated us very well. From the moment we disembarked, they greeted us with ‘shalom’ in Hebrew and made us feel good. They are very nice here.”
אני מאוד מעריך את היחס החם של הרשויות הסעודיות לנוסעים הישראלים שהמטוס שלהם נקלע למצוקה ונאלץ לנחות נחיתת חירום בג'דה.
אני שמח שכולם חוזרים הביתה.
אני מאוד מעריך את השכנות הטובה. pic.twitter.com/XyVj0o9B1g
— Benjamin Netanyahu – בנימין נתניהו (@netanyahu) August 29, 2023
Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu praised the Saudi Government in a video recorded in Hebrew with Arabic subtitles. “I greatly appreciate the warm attitude of the Saudi authorities toward the Israeli passengers whose flight was in distress,” he said while gesturing towards a map of the region behind him. “I greatly appreciate the good neighborliness,” highlighting the potential for improved ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Though Saudi Arabia was not one of the Gulf and Arab countries that normalized ties with Israel as part of the 2020 Abraham Accords brokered under the Trump administration, the two countries have developed strong but informal connections in recent years over their shared concerns about Iran’s growing influence in the region.
Speculation has grown about an impending deal as the Wall Street Journal reported this week that Saudi Arabia is considering resuming aid to the Palestinian Authority as part of its effort to lay the groundwork for a future recognition agreement with Israel.
Saudi Arabia had previously been a staunch supporter and benefactor of the Palestinian Authority, giving over $5 billion to Palestinian causes, but Riyadh cut funding in 2016 amid allegations of incompetence and corruption. The resumption of Saudi aid, which would be contingent on the Palestinian Authority cracking down on militant groups and violence in Judea and Samaria, could play an important role in securing their support for the kingdom’s outreach to Israel.
Netanyahu has long championed a deal with the Saudis, saying that the big prize for Israel is a deep relationship with Saudi Arabia. It would grant legitimacy to the presence of a Jewish state in the mostly Muslim region and potentially open doors to normalization with other large Muslim nations such as Malaysia and Indonesia.
According to Daily Wire Editor Emeritus Ben Shapiro, the Saudis are willing to normalize relations with Israel. However, the Biden administration has put pressure on the Saudis not to normalize relations unless Israel makes concessions to the Palestinians, and the Palestinians are governed by terror groups connected to Iran.
Biden’s latest deal with Iran, which unfroze nearly $6 billion in frozen Iranian assets in exchange for the transfer of five U.S. citizens from prison to house arrest in Tehran, only seems to bolden its sponsorship of terrorism. Terror in Israel is out of control, with more Israelis dead this year from Palestinian terror than any year since the second intifada, 20 years ago. Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has blamed Iran for the latest spree of violence, culminating yesterday with four terror attacks in a span of less than 24 hours.