Abu Dhabi/Jerusalem, Aug 31 (PTI) In a historic step towards peace in the Middle East, the first commercial direct flight between Israel and the UAE landed in Abu Dhabi on Monday after both countries announced normalisation of relations.
The flight carried a top level Israeli delegation led by National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat while the US delegation was headed by US President Donald Trump's adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner and US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien.
“We just completed a truly historic flight. This hopefully will be the first of many,” Kushner said after disembarking from the flight.
He thanked leadership on both sides on the occasion. Saudi Arabia granted permission for the use of its air space.
“Peace overwhelmingly desired by the people, except by those who exploit misery to remain in power. Future belongs to industrious people of the region,” Kushner said.
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, flew 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.
The flight that took off from the Ben-Gurion airport in Israel landed in Abu Dhabi on Monday afternoon.
The delegation is visiting in the wake of the trilateral announcement and roadmap towards joint cooperation between the United Arab Emirates and the State of Israel.
On asked about the possible sale of F-35 stealth jets to the UAE, Kushner said, 'Prime Minister Netanyahu and the president (Donald Trump) will discuss that at some point,' he official WAM news agency reported.
'Another step toward regional peace. We are all excited and look forward to more historic flights that will take us to other capital cities in the region, advancing us all to a more prosperous future,' Tal Becker, the pilot of the plane, was quoted as saying in the report.
The special plane, El Al 737-900, is equipped with a system to protect aircraft against aerial threats like ground-to-air missiles, the report said.
The Directed IR Countermeasures (DIRCM) manufactured by Elbit Systems defend aircraft by detecting, tracking and jamming incoming infrared threats like heat-seeking ground-to-air missiles and shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, also known as man-portable air defense systems (MANPADs), it said.
According to a report in the Gulf News, the US-Israeli delegation, comprised of representatives from the investment, finance, health, civil space and aviation, foreign policy, diplomacy, tourism, and culture sectors and will meet representatives of UAE government agencies to discuss ways to develop relations in related fields.
Earlier in Israel before take off, 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.
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.
It has also painted a peace logo in Arabic, English and Hebrew on the flight 971. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference on Sunday said the breakthrough signalled the end of a 'Palestinian veto'.
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 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. PTI CORR HM RS AKJ RS RS