The direct commercial passenger flight carried a high-ranking American and Israeli delegation to Abu Dhabi and was the first ever of this type 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 towards Iran.
With the US as matchmaker, Israel and the UAE agreed earlier this month to work toward normalisation, which would make the UAE the third Arab nation to have full relations with Israel, after Egypt and Jordan. But unlike those two nations, Israel has never fought a war against the UAE and hopes to have much-warmer relations.
The American delegation includes US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, as well as national security adviser Robert O’Brien, Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz and envoy for Iran Brian Hook. Israel will be represented by national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and the director generals of several ministries, who will meet with their Emirati counterparts.
“While this is a historic flight, we hope that this will start an even more historic journey for the Middle East and beyond,” Mr Kushner told reporters before boarding the plane.
Mr Ben-Shabbat said he was excited about the trip and that the aim was to lay the groundwork for co-operation in areas like tourism, medicine, technology and trade.
“This morning the traditional greeting of ‘go in peace’ takes on a special significance for us,” he said.
The El Al flight, numbered LY971 as a gesture to the UAE’s international calling code number, flew into Saudi Arabian airspace shortly after take-off and later passed over the capital, Riyadh. That marked another historic first for Israel and at least an acquiescence by the kingdom for the UAE’s move.
Saudi King Salman, along with other Gulf Arab leaders to varying degrees, maintain their boycotts of Israel in support of Palestinians obtaining an independent state. Any long-term flights between Israel and the UAE would require Saudi clearance to be profitable. Otherwise the three hour and 20 minute flight would take more than seven hours.
El Al spokesman Stanley Morais said the 737-900 is equipped with a missile-defence system, a standard feature on these types of planes and a requirement for this flight. After grounding its fleet due to coronavirus, it is the airline’s first flight since July 1.
The plane was decorated with the the words for peace in Arabic, Hebrew and English above the pilot’s window. Journalists were handed special face masks decorated with the Israeli and Emirati flags. The seat protectors said “Making History” in all three languages, and Israeli folk music played in the background.