The Philippines is discussing with Saudi Arabia the possibility of using the Kingdom’s airspace for direct flights to Israel. The South-East Asian country’s Civil Aeronautics Board – a government agency which oversees the Philippines air transportation — sent a letter to Saudi Arabia in October requesting permission to fly through its airspace. As yet, the discussions between the Philippines and Saudi Arabia do not appear to include permission for Israeli aircraft to fly directly to the Philippines via Saudi airspace.
If permission is granted, national carrier Philippine Airlines could launch direct flights to Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport within six months, the company’s president Jaime Bautista said yesterday. Philippine Airlines would then become just the second airline to receive permission to cross Saudi airspace when flying to Israel, the Times of Israel reported, Air India being the only other airline given the right to do so; it has flown direct flights from the Indian capital New Delhi to Tel Aviv since March last year.
Like most countries in the region, Saudi had previously maintained a blanket ban on all flights and overflights to and from Israel since the latter’s creation in 1948. The decision to grant Air India permission to fly last March was interpreted as a sign of warming relations between the two countries.
Since then, Israel’s normalisation efforts have intensified dramatically, with Israeli establishment figures attending public meetings with officials in Oman, the UAE and Bahrain. Following his meeting with Oman’s Sultan Qaboos Bin Said in October, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted that the Sultan had granted Israel permission to use Omani airspace. “Therefore, only one small thing remains for us to do,” Netanyahu told Israeli diplomats as he pointed to Saudi Arabia on a map. Without similar permission from the Kingdom, Muscat’s promise will remain symbolic, as the states which border the sultanate hold no diplomatic ties with Israel.
Israel-Philippines relations have been a controversial topic, particularly given Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte’s questionable comments and domestic policies. In September it emerged that an Israeli company intends to invest approximately $50 million in a weapons factory in the republic in 2019. The firm — Silver Shadow Advanced Security Systems Ltd (SSASS) – sent officials to finalise plans for an assembly plant slated to start producing firebombs and ammunition that will be used by the Philippines army. It is estimated that during Duterte’s visit to Israel the same month, more than 20 trade agreements worth nearly $83 million were signed.
Amnesty International slammed Israel’s decision to supply arms to the Philippines, pointing to the scores of extrajudicial killings that have taken place under Duterte’s alleged “war on drugs”. Programme Director at Amnesty International Israel, Molly Malakar, said that Israeli arms were used to liquidate Duterte’s political opponents and poor people who use drugs: “The more Israel’s policies in the occupied Palestinian territories are criticised in international forums, the more it cooperates with criminal regimes in order to achieve diplomatic support.”
Approximately 25-30,000 Filipinos live in Israel as guest workers, the majority of whom are carers for elderly Israelis. Many live in south Tel Aviv, though they are not granted citizenship or residents’ status.