(Times of Israel) – An Air Seychelles jet with at least 128 Israelis on board became the first direct passenger flight from Saudi Arabia to Israel on Tuesday when it brought home passengers who spent the night in Jeddah after their original flight was forced to land due to electrical problems.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked the kingdom for the warm welcome given to the Israelis. Passengers also said that their initial fears upon discovering they were in a country with no diplomatic ties to Israel were quickly allayed by the “uber-nice” Saudi welcome.
“I really appreciate the warm way in which the Saudi authorities treated the Israeli passengers,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
Passenger Maayan Shtal said there was a power cut and smoke in the plane, requiring the emergency landing.
She told Israel’s Channel 12 news that it wasn’t clear to the passengers where they were going to be touching down, and that the flight crew initially didn’t seem certain either.
“We heard people saying Jeddah, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. And everyone was, like, ‘What? … How can Israelis land in Saudi Arabia?'” There was concern that perhaps the airline didn’t realise the potential sensitivity, “but we realised that, in the end, they did understand,” she said.
Channel 12 reported that Israeli security officials, who had been on holiday, happened to be aboard, adding to the tension. The Kan public broadcaster also reported that the brother of far-right Otzma Yehudit lawmaker Almog Cohen was on the flight.
Passengers were housed in an airport hotel overnight. The airline later dispatched another aircraft to Jeddah to pick up the passengers. It landed at Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday after an approximately two-hour flight.
Passengers were jubilant after landing at home in Israel.
“We are emotional, we were a bit anxious, but we trusted the country would do what was needed,” Sivan Postanlnik told reporters. “And they did not disappoint.”
“We made history, maybe we will also bring peace,” said another passenger Shai Kalmonowitz.
Saudi Arabia only began allowing Israeli airlines to fly over its territory in a special air corridor for flights to and from the UAE and Bahrain after the Abraham Accords were signed in 2020.
Air Seychelles general manager Sandy Benoiton told Channel 12 in an interview that the cooperation from the Saudis had been “great”.
The Saudis were “very welcoming of the Israeli passengers and Air Seychelles”, he said, adding that he was “very pleased with how all parties handled the situation”.
“It was a smooth process with all parties,” he said.