In what is an unbelievably rare, if not unprecedented occasion, a Saudi Airlines Airbus A330 landed at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport today for technical reasons. The aircraft was empty, on a return trip from Brussels and it remains unclear if the stop was actually planned or part of an in-flight emergency.
The Airbus is said to be leased from a European company, and as such, it may have actually landed at Ben Gurion International for planned maintenance, which some reports say IAI’s Badek division may have a service contract for.
Regardless of exactly what the circumstances were, the presence of a Saudi airliner on the tarmac in Tel Aviv was a strange sight for many. Israel has no formal diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia and no direct flights, or even indirect flights, between the two countries exist. Royal Jordanian and Turkish Airlines are the only Middle Eastern Islamic countries that have airlines operating from Israeli airports.
Still, the old adage “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” has never been more relevant than in the Middle East today. Iran’s growing influence in the region, along with the reality of a nuclear armed Iran setting in with many of the Sunni Arab Gulf States, have made Israel’s strategic priorities eerily in-line with those of The Kingdom.
For about a decade now, reports have come and gone about secret Israeli-Saudi and Arab Gulf State dealings, with some reports even stating that Israeli military aircraft have been spotted operating from Saudi’s remote super bases. If Israel were to attack Iran in an attempt to slow its nuclear program (Israel does not have the air power capability to neuter it entirely), Saudi overflight permission, and even use of its bases, would be a huge coup in making such a strike possible while also shortening the campaign’s duration and lowering its inherent risks.
This all points to one question: is the Saudi A330’s presence on Israeli ground just a fluke or another sign of the changing times in the Middle East?
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com