Tel Aviv, Aug 31 (PTI) The first historic commercial flight between Israel and the UAE left for Abu Dhabi on Monday from the Ben-Gurion airport here, days after the normalisation of relations between the two countries under US mediation.
The flight is carrying a high-level Israeli delegation led by National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat and a US delegation headed by US President Donald Trump's adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner and US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien. Israel and the UAE announced on August 13 that they were establishing full diplomatic relations, in a US-brokered deal that required Israel to suspend its plan to annex parts of the West Bank.
UAE is only the third Arab country to establish diplomatic ties with the Jewish state. Israel's neighbours, Egypt and Jordan, being the other two Arab states to recognise the Jewish state.
The development is being seen as a major breakthrough because the Israeli national carrier, El Al, is likely to fly over the Saudi airspace, which is being interpreted by analysts as acceptance of Israel by the Gulf countries in general, and a probable normalisation of ties with some of the other 'friendly countries' in that region.
Speaking at Ben-Gurion International Airport just before takeoff, Kushner said, 'We hope this will start an even more historic journey...this is a very hopeful time and I believe that so much peace and prosperity are possible in this region and around the world.' Ben-Shabbat said Israel's goals for the trip is to 'reach a joint work plan to promote ties in a broad range of areas, including tourism, innovation, health and much more'.
The Israeli Airline Pilots Association released a tentative map of LY971’s route on Sunday evening, showing the plane slated to cross through Saudi airspace.
Israel's Channel 12 reported that Saudi Arabia had authorised the use of its airspace after receiving a request from Washington and only agreed to do so because a high-level American delegation will be onboard.
Many believe that the normalisation of ties with UAE could have come only with Saudi blessings but Riyadh is yet to establish formal diplomatic ties with Jerusalem but is believed to covertly cooperate closely with the Jewish state.
Air India has been flying over Saudi airspace since its operations started in March 2018 on the Tel Aviv-Delhi route, but the kingdom did not permit Israeli airlines to fly over it.
Symbolic of direct connection between Israel and the UAE the flight numbers have been marked LY971 on the way to Abu Dhabi and LY972 on the way back to Israel, using the telephone dialing code of the two countries.
El Al has also painted a peace logo in Arabic, English and Hebrew on the flight 971.
Israeli Prime Minister Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday met senior American officials who were involved in brokering the deal between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi and who would be accompanying Israeli officials on the flight for discussions on normalisation of ties.
Netanyahu during a press conference on Sunday said the breakthrough signalled the end of a 'Palestinian veto'.
“I think for too long the Palestinians have had a veto on peace. Not only between Israel and the Palestinians but between Israel and the Arab world”, the Israeli Prime Minister said.
“If we have to wait for the Palestinians, we would have to wait forever. No longer. The Palestinians, when they realise that their veto has dissipated, will be hard pressed to remain outside the community of peace,” he added.
Speaking alongside Kushner and O’Brien, Netanyahu expressed hopes that the normalisation of Israel-UAE ties will pave the way for treaties with more Arab countries.
Most of the Arab countries over the years have linked normalisation of ties with Israel to a peace agreement and just settlement of Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Palestinian leaders have condemned UAE for agreeing to normalise relations with Israel, calling the move 'despicable and a betrayal'.
The Prime Minister's Office has said that the delegation aboard the 'historic' flight is civilian in nature and defence officials would be travelling to the Gulf country a few weeks later.
The two-day visit will include a trilateral meeting in Abu Dhabi between the heads of the delegations -- Israel's Ben-Shabbat, O’Brien and Kushner for the US, and UAE National Security Advisor Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed.
The Israeli delegation also included Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman, Health Ministry Director General Chezy Levy, Science and Technology Ministry Director General Shai-Li Spiegelman, Economy and Industry Ministry Director General David Laffler among others.
UAE on Saturday issued a decree abolishing a law that boycotted Israel and paves the way for trade and financial agreements between the two countries.
However, amid the ongoing bonhomie also lies an irritant around the proposed US' sale of F-35 fighter jets to UAE which Israel strongly objects to, fearing loss of military edge.
Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz on Sunday told the visiting US delegation that he hoped Israel and the US would continue finding ways to maintain Jerusalem's quality military edge in the region.
'We will work in partnership to advance further agreements and find the right ways to ensure that our military superiority is maintained while safeguarding Israel’s security,' Gantz said. PTI HM SCY AKJ SCY