World News

First Israeli commercial flight between Israel and UAE takes to the skies

Posted August 31, 2020 10:03 a.m. EDT

— The first Israeli commercial flight from Israel to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) took to the skies on Monday, after an agreement to normalize relations between the two countries.

Several top Trump administration officials were on board the plane, escorting Israeli government officials from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi for talks with their Emirati counterparts, as part of the White House-brokered plan.

The Boeing 737 was given permission to fly through Saudi Arabian airspace, in a first for Israeli carrier El Al, its captain Tal Becker announced shortly before take-off.

The flight would have taken seven hours if it had not been allowed to use Saudi airspace, Becker said; instead it took just over three hours. Israel and Saudi Arabia do not share diplomatic relations.

President Donald Trump's top adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, national security adviser Robert O'Brien and the Director of Israel's National Security Council, Meir Ben-Shabbat all spoke briefly to the media after arriving on the tarmac at Ben-Gurion airport on Monday morning.

"This is a historic flight and we hope that this would start a more historic journey for the Middle East and beyond," Kushner said. "The future should not be determined by the past."

Brian Hook, the outgoing US Special Representative for Iran, and Special Representative for International Negotiations, Avi Berkowitz, are escorting Israeli government experts in aviation, space, health and banking, according to a senior White House official.

The flight number -- LY 971 -- was specially chosen for the flight, as it is the dialing code for the UAE. The return flight will be LY 972 -- Israel's dialing code.

While members of the public were not able to purchase a ticket for the historic journey, it meets the Federal Aviation Administration's criteria for a commercial flight because some of those on board will be paying for their tickets.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it the "first ever Israeli commercial flight" to the UAE, a characterization also used by the UAE's Foreign Ministry.

Earlier this month, the White House released a lengthy joint statement between the US, UAE and Israel, calling the "full normalization of relations" between Israel and the UAE a "historic diplomatic breakthrough" and a positive development in efforts to reinforce solidarity against Iran.

Israel vowed to ​temporarily "suspend​" plans to annex the West Bank, and the President of the UAE, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, issued a federal decree abolishing a law boycotting Israel.

It means individuals and companies in the UAE may enter into agreements with Israelis and carry out commercial and financial dealings in the country, as well as exchange, possess or trade Israeli goods and products in the UAE.

The flight comes as part of the UAE's efforts to expand diplomatic and commercial cooperation with Israel. It also lays out a roadmap towards joint cooperation and bilateral relations by promoting economic growth and technological innovation.

It is the first scheduled El Al flight in many months -- the carrier has effectively shut down its operations since the spring due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The flight is not the first direct flight between Israel and the UAE, nor is it the first flight between the two countries by a commercial carrier on a special mission.

In May, an unmarked Etihad Airways flight from Abu Dhabi landed at Ben-Gurion airport carrying medical supplies intended for Palestinians. A month later, another Etihad Airways flight made the same journey, this time in full livery with the UAE flag on the side. These flights overflew Kuwait, Iraq, and Turkey before landing in Israel.

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