Israel’s Interior Ministry said Sunday that it will now allow Israelis to travel to Saudi Arabia for religious or business visits.
Previously the Israeli Citizens who wanted to travel to the Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia had to seek special permission of the government to do so.
Under Sunday’s announcement, Israeli Muslims can go to Saudi Arabia for religious pilgrimages and Israeli Jews will be allowed to visit for up to nine days for business reasons such as investment or meetings. However, business trips will be conditional on the traveler having an invitation from a Saudi official. 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.
This development comes as a result of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looking to capitalize on common interests like Iran while also marketing Israeli technologies to try and further normalize relations.
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.
Sources familiar with the decision said Dery’s signature was the culmination of a process that “had been brewing for many weeks.”
Sheikh Abd al-Rahim Fukara, the committee’s spokesman, said that until now, Israeli pilgrims to Saudi Arabia have gone via Jordan, with the Jordanian Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs arranging their trips. Consequently, he said, any decision that affects this arrangement will have diplomatic and economic ramifications for Jordan, and could even affect Israel’s relations with Jordan.
According to the committee, some 30,000 Israeli pilgrims travel to Saudi Arabia every year. Of these, around 4,500 are performing the Hajj and the rest are performing the Umrah.
“We don’t yet know if there will be any change with regard to the pilgrimages,” Sheikh Abd al-Rahim Fukara, the committee’s spokesman said. “The decision seems to relate more to people who want to do business or make a private visit.”
“So far, we haven’t gotten any updates from Jordan or Saudi Arabia about a change,” he added. “This may be more of a declarative political step than something real.”
There was no immediate comment from Saudi Arabia on the announcement, which seems to be another sign of Israel’s quiet but warming relationship with the kingdom.