Olympian Shachar Sagiv became the first Israeli athlete to participate in a kingdom-sanctioned sporting event when he openly competed in a triathlon in Saudi Arabia this weekend.
The Super League Triathlon was held around the futuristic “city” of Neom, on the coast of the Red Sea. Neom is a flagship business and tourism magnet for Saudi Arabia—an area they are trying to attract international investors to buy into.
Yael Arad, the head of Israel’s Olympic Committee, saw Sagiv’s inclusion in the event as “a very significant breakthrough” in a thawing of relations between Riyadh and Jerusalem.
“In the past year, we’ve seen many Arab states come to terms with the fact that hosting an international tournament means hosting Israelis. This is a growing trend and the true force in normalization between nations, and especially people,” Arad said.
Saudi Arabia and Israel are not only welcoming each other on the sports field, but also, there is a growing level of cooperation in trade, finance, and anti-terrorism activities, including intelligence-gathering.
In July, the kingdom opened up Saudi airspace to Israeli commercial travel. For decades, any dual citizen of Israel had to use their other passport to enter the kingdom—now, this is no longer the case. Israelis are free to use their Israel passport. There is also increased business activity between Israeli entrepreneurs and their Saudi counterparts.
The warming of relations has been ongoing since the 2020 Abraham Accords, which normalized diplomatic ties with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Sudan. Perhaps Saudi Arabia will soon join that list. Although it remains to be seen if the new government in Israel, headed up by Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition, will have a chilling effect on our budding relationships with our Arab neighbors.