Weeks after the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel signed a historic peace agreement brokered by the United States, a delegation of high-level officials took off from Tel Aviv on Monday, aboard the first-ever commercial flight between the two Middle Eastern countries.
El Al Flight LY971, named after UAE’s international dialling code, left for Abu Dhabi this morning, carrying top aides of US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and Israel’s National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat are leading the delegation, BBC reported.
The delegates are set to meet with their Emirati counterparts once they land in Abu Dhabi later Monday. During the overnight visit, they will discuss how to develop various areas of cooperation between Israel and the UAE. On Tuesday, the delegates will return to Israel onboard flight LY972, which is numbered to represent Israel’s international dialling code.
In a significant diplomatic development, the flight will be passing over Saudi Arabia’s airspace, which is otherwise blocked for Israeli aircraft, Reuters reported. This, in a way, indicates Saudi’s acceptance of the controversial peace deal.
By signing the peace agreement on August 13, the UAE became the third Arab nation after Egypt (in 1979) and Jordan (in 1994) to recognise and establish diplomatic relations with Israel. In return, President Netanyahu vowed to stall his plans to annex the highly-contested territory of West Bank.
Soon after, delegations from both countries began working towards forging bilateral ties across various avenues — including investment, telecommunication, tourism and direct flights. Earlier this month, the first direct telephone service was opened between the two countries, BBC reported.
Here are the top developments on the Israel-UAE Peace deal
‘This is what peace for peace looks like,’ says Netanyahu
In a recent tweet, shared ahead of the historic flight between the two Middle Eastern countries, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the voyage was an example of “peace for peace”, BBC reported.
“That’s what peace for peace looks like,” his tweet, originally written in Hebrew, read. The plane itself carried the word ‘peace’, printed in Arabic, English and Hebrew right above the cockpit window.
Meanwhile, Israel’s National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat said he was excited for the trip, adding that the aim was to work towards cooperation in areas like tourism, medicine, technology and trade, AP reported.
“This morning the traditional greeting of ‘go in peace’ takes on a special significance for us,” Ben-Shabbat told reporters, before boarding the flight.
‘This is a historic flight,’ says Jared Kushner
Addressing the media before boarding the flight, White House Adviser Jared Kushner said that he hoped that the three hour trip to Abu Dhabi would mark the beginning of a historic journey for the Middle East, the Guardian reported.
This is a historic flight. We hope that this will start an even more historic journey for the Middle East and beyond,” he said.
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Kushner played a central role in brokering the deal between Israel and the UAE. Speaking in Jerusalem on Sunday, Kushner called the agreement a “giant step forward”. “To have played a role in its creation, and I say this as the grandson of two Holocaust survivors, it means more to me and to my family that I can ever express,” he added.
In historic first, pilot confirms flight will cross Saudi Arabia
The plane’s captain, 45-year-old Tan Becker, announced that the flight would be passing over Saudi Arabia shortly after takeoff. This marked the first time an Israeli aircraft entered Saudi airspace, AP reported.
Saudi and several other Gulf countries had previously imposed a number of restrictions on Israel, due to their support of Palestinians who are seeking to obtain an independent state in West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip areas captured by Israel.
Had Saudi not permitted the flight to enter, the three hour and 20 minute flight would have taken more than seven hours, an AP report stated.
EL AL captain speaks before the departure from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi pic.twitter.com/RrBX7B2pTV
— Barak Ravid (@BarakRavid) August 31, 2020
UAE cancels Israel Boycott, paving the way for flight, business
The President of the UAE Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan on Saturday cancelled an age-old law boycotting Israel, which finally allowed for trade and financial agreements between the two countries, Reuters reported.
The decree aimed at “supporting bilateral cooperation in order to arrive at (the establishment) of bilateral relations”, according to a report by the UAE’s official news agency WAM.
According to Israeli Foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi, with its recent decree the country had taken “an important step towards peace, which will yield substantial economic and commercial achievements for both people while strengthening the stability in the region.”
The lifting of the boycott paved the way for the historic flight between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi that took place today, and also business between the two countries in the future.