Washington– Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Saudi Arabia has given Air India approval to use its airspace for flights between Israel and India.

Netanyahu made the announcement during a briefing in Washington on Monday after meeting US President Donald Trump, the Times of Israel reported.

“Air India signed an agreement to fly to Israel over Saudi Arabia,” he said, emphasizing that the flights to and from Mumbai would consume the same time as flights between London and Tel Aviv — about five-and-a-half hours.

There was no immediate confirmation of the agreement from Saudi Arabia or Air India.

Currently, El Al Israel Airlines offers direct flights from Israel to India, with a Tel Aviv-Mumbai route.

In order to avoid Saudi Arabia, which has hitherto forbidden flights to and from Israel over its airspace, the plane must detour over the Red Sea and around the Arabian peninsula, adding over two hours to the journey.

The Indian airline’s ability to fly over Saudi Arabia would substantially reduce the flight time. Netanyahu stressed the planes would not be able to fly over Iran, Iraq and Pakistan — other countries with which Israel has no diplomatic ties, the Times of Israel reported.

The “agreement” marked a significant achievement as Jerusalem attempts to upgrade its relationship with Riyadh, the report said.

While no formal ties exist between Israel and Saudi Arabia, it was revealed by Israeli officials over the last several months that there had been covert contacts between the two countries, according to a Jerusalem Post report.

Netanyahu, who visited India in January, acknowledged the agreement could hurt El Al. During the India trip, Netanyahu had said that an “efficient and direct route” between the countries was an important goal. (IANS)