Israel, UAE and new beginnings

First-ever direct flight between the two countries lands in Abu Dhabi

Associated PressUpdated: Monday, August 31, 2020, 09:10 PM IST
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Jared Kushner (C-R) & US National Security Adviser (C-L) with members of Israeli-American delegation. | PIC: AFP

A Star of David-adorned El Al plane flew from Israel to the United Arab Emirates 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 U.S.-brokered deal to normalize relations between the two nations and solidifies the long-clandestine ties between them that have evolved over years of shared enmity toward Iran.

With the U.S. as matchmaker, Israel and the UAE agreed earlier this month to work toward normalization, 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 President Donald Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, as well as national security adviser Robert O'Brien, Mideast 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," Kushner told reporters before boarding the plane.

Meir Ben-Shabbat, Israel's national security adviser and head of the Israeli delegation, said he was excited about the trip and that the aim was to lay the groundwork for cooperation 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 takeoff 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.

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