Haaretz Investigation: Secret Flight Operating Between Israel and Gulf State

Haaretz analysis of publicly available data shows civilian plane following permanent flight path; Israel has no formal relations with Gulf states, and business ties decreased after 2010 assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai.

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Dubai's skyline. Which country is the mystery flight route connecting Israel to?
Dubai's skyline. Which country is the mystery flight route connecting Israel to?Credit: Bloomberg

The airplane parked in a side lot at Ben-Gurion International Airport for the past several months does not attract any particular attention. But the plane, which bears a foreign flag on one side, is one of the more interesting of the hundreds of aircraft that take off and land at the airport every week.

A 2010 news conference in Dubai, where footage was shown of persons suspected of killing Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. Credit: Reuters

A Haaretz analysis of publicly available online flight data indicates that this civilian plane follows what appears to be a permanent flight path between Ben-Gurion Airport and an airport in a Gulf state.

Israel’s relations with the Gulf states are extremely sensitive, however, and the flights are indirect because Israel does not have official diplomatic relations with the country in question.

The flight data indicate that after taking off from Ben-Gurion, the plane spends a few days in the Gulf state in question and then returns to Israel. There have been several flights between Israel and the Gulf state recently.

It remains unclear who or what is using the route, and whether that entity is Israeli. What is clear is that the Israel-Gulf route is being kept extremely low-profile.

When asked about who uses the plane flying that route, the spokeswoman for the small foreign airline that owns it said that information was confidential.

“Unfortunately, the information you have requested is confidential as it concerns a private client,” she said in a statement. “We have to remain discreet and cannot provide you with any details regarding this operation.”

The airline that owns the mystery plane leases its aircraft, services and flight crews to companies and businesspeople. It also runs flights on special flight paths for airlines including Germany’s Lufthansa and Scandinavian Airlines.

Licensing data for the aircraft indicate that it landed at Ben-Gurion Airport for the first time two days after the airline took ownership of the plane. The aircraft is fitted out with business-class seats, eight of which are placed around two tables at the front of the plane.

Many Israeli businesspeople work quietly in the Gulf, though Israeli business activity there has decreased since the 2010 assassination of senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai, which has been attributed to the Mossad.

The French journal Intelligence Online reported in January 2012 that Zurich-based AGT International, a safety and security solutions provider whose founder and CEO is Israeli businessman Mati Kochavi, had sold $800 million worth of security equipment to protect oil facilities in the Gulf.

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