JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel on Sunday announced that it would permit Israeli citizens to travel to Saudi Arabia for the first time, under certain conditions that include Israeli entrepreneurs seeking investments, in a signal of warming ties.
Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, after consulting the country’s security establishment, issued a statement saying that Israelis would be allowed to travel to Saudi Arabia under two circumstances: for religious reasons on pilgrimage on the haj, or for up to nine days for business reasons such as investment or meetings.
Travelers would still need an invitation and permission from the Saudi authorities, the statement said.
Israel has peace treaties with two Arab countries — Egypt and Jordan — but concerns over Iran’s influence in the region have led to thawing ties with some Gulf states as well.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been looking to capitalize on common interests like Iran while also marketing Israeli technologies to try and further normalize relations.
Israelis — mostly Muslims going on pilgrimage — have been traveling to Saudi Arabia for years but usually with special permission or using foreign passports.
Saudi authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Saudi Arabia launched a new tourism visa last year for visitors from 49 countries as part of its bid to diversify the economy and open up society. Israel is not one of the eligible countries.
However, in 2018 Saudi Arabia opened its airspace for a commercial flight to Israel with the start of a new Air India route between New Delhi and Tel Aviv, although national carrier El Al Israel Airlines may not use Saudi airspace for eastward flights.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch and Steven Scheer; Additional reporting by Stephen Kalin, Editing by William Maclean)