An El Al plane, bearing the Arabic, English and Hebrew word for ‘peace’, flew from Ben Gurion Airport, Israel, to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Monday, carrying a high-ranking American and Israeli delegation to Abu Dhabi in the first-ever direct commercial passenger flight between the two countries.
The Israeli flag carrier’s flight marked the implementation of the historic US-brokered deal to normalise relations between the two nations and solidifies the long-clandestine ties between them that have evolved over years of shared enmity toward Iran.
🇦🇪 🇺🇸 🇮🇱
The first commercial flight from Israel to the #UAE landed in Abu Dhabi today carrying a US-Israeli delegation led by President Trump’s Senior Adviser Jared Kushner in a major step forward for joint cooperation between the UAE and Israel. pic.twitter.com/Mg6qY0Bsp6
— هند مانع العتيبة Hend Al Otaiba (@hend_mana) August 31, 2020
US President Donald Trump‘s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner and National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien led the US delegation, with Israel’s team led by O’Brien’s counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat.
“While this is a historic flight, we hope that it will start an even more historic journey in the Middle East and beyond,” Kushner said before boarding the El Al aircraft. Flight LY971 flew over Saudi Arabia after Riyadh agreed to Israel’s request on Sunday, marking the first time an Israeli commercial plane flew over Saudi Arabian territory.
The plane is named after Kiryat Gat, a Jewish settlement built on the remains of two ethnically cleansed Palestinian villages, Iraq al-Manshiyya and al-Faluja.
At an airport ceremony in Abu Dhabi after the three hour 20 minute flight, Kushner called the visit a “historic breakthrough” and expressed hope this “will be the first of many” such flights.
“There is great urgency between the people of both countries to break down old barriers, to get to know each other, to form new and hopefully very deep friendships,” he said.
"I prayed yesterday at the Western Wall that Muslims & Arabs from throughout the world will be watching this flight recognizing that we are all children of god and that the future does not have to predetermined by the past.” ~ Jared Kushner https://t.co/Jfod1KqK57
— Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) August 31, 2020
State television in Abu Dhabi broke into its broadcast to show the airplane on the tarmac and aired the comments of all officials, including Ben-Shabbat, who spoke in Arabic and Hebrew. No Emirati officials spoke at the ceremony.
“We came here in broad daylight and before the eyes of all in a plane bearing the flag of Israel along with our American friends,” Ben-Shabbat said. “Israel and the UAE have much in common. Our region is full of challenges and threats. But we have the strength and the ability to stand against them.”
Israeli officials hope the two-day trip will produce a date for a signing ceremony in Washington, perhaps later this month, between Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
With the US as matchmaker, Israel and the UAE agreed on 13 August to work toward normalisation, which would make it the third Arab nation to have full relations with Israel, after Egypt and Jordan. Unlike those two nations, Israel has never fought a war against the UAE and hopes to have much-warmer relations.
For US President Donald Trump, the accord delivers a key foreign policy victory as he faces a tough reelection campaign. It also helps solidify an emerging anti-Iran alliance that includes Israel and pro-Western Arab governments.
“Right now the biggest threat we see in the region is Iran,” Kushner said.