In a sign of easing tension in the Middle East, history was made with the first direct flight from Israel to the United Arab Emirates.
El Al flight 971 took off from Tel Aviv at 11.14am local time, and initially routed over Jordanian territory. Forty minutes later the Boeing 737 crossed into Saudi Arabian airspace, from which the Israeli national airline had previously been banned.
The aircraft, which had “peace” painted on it in English, Hebrew and Arabic, carried members of a US-Israeli delegation, led by Jared Kushner – Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser – and Israel’s national security advisor, Meir Ben Shabbat.
Mr Kushner said Palestinians should not be “stuck in the past” and added: ”They have to come to the table. Peace will be ready for them, an opportunity will be ready for them as soon as they are ready to embrace it.”
After the plane landed in Abu Dhabi, Benjamin Netanyahu called the pilot, Captain Tal Becker to tell him it was “a historic day”. He added: “You have no idea how excited the citizens of Israel, myself included, are over this day. We dreamed about it and worked for it and here it is happening before our eyes. Be blessed and do great things!”
The Israeli prime minister also tweeted “That’s what peace for peace looks like” as he described a deal for formal ties with an Arab state that does not entail handover of land that Israel captured in the 1967 war. He later told a press conference: “It will be a warm peace because it will be based on cooperation in the realm of economics, with an entrepreneurial economy like ours, with vast economic capabilities, with big money looking for investment channels.”
The flight number, 971, was chosen as it is the international dialling code for the UAE while the return flight is numbered 972, which is the code for Israel.
Ahead of the flight, Israel’s health ministry removed the obligation for arrivals from the UAE to self-isolate for 14 days.
An Israeli government spokesperson confirmed that the aircraft was equipped with an anti-missile system, like all El Al 737s, and carried security agents of the US Secret Service and the Israeli Shin Bet.
Until now the only Arab nations to establish relations with Israel have been Egypt and Jordan.
Travellers in the region have long faced problems if they have an Israeli stamp in their passport, or a stamp from Egypt or Jordan that indicates they have used a land border with Israel.
Some people have even been refused entry if they have old baggage tags indicating Israeli airports on their luggage. And while Israeli citizens can visit the UAE, previously they have had to take connecting flights.
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