In First, UAE Flight Traverses Israeli Skies en Route to Abu Dhabi

'This is a historic moment we have all been waiting for'

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An Etihad plane stands parked at a gate at JFK International Airport in New York, March 21, 2017.
An Etihad plane stands parked at a gate at JFK International Airport in New York, March 21, 2017. Credit: Lucas Jackson/ REUTERS

An Etihad Airways plane flying from Milan to Abu Dhabi flew over Israel on Wednesday evening, a manifestation of the recent aviation agreements signed between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. The flight marks the first time an Emirati flight crossed Israeli airspace.

“Captain, we are thrilled and honored to welcome you to overfly Israel,” an Israeli air traffic controller says to the pilot of the Emirati plane.

“This is a historic moment we have all been waiting for. We hope it will inspire the whole region and mark the beginning of a new era, inshallah (in Arabic: God willing),” the controller continued in audio released by Israel’s Transportation Ministry.

“Inshallah, thank you, the honor is ours,” replied the pilot.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday urged Saudi Arabia to consider normalizing relations with Israel as he met with the Gulf country's foreign minister, also saying that Washington supports a "robust program of arms sales" to it.

Pompeo said he raised the so-called Abraham Accords, a U.S.-brokered agreement to normalize diplomatic ties with Israel, with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud at a meeting at the U.S. State Department.

"We hope Saudi Arabia will consider normalizing its relationships as well, and we want to thank them for the assistance they've had in the success of the Abraham Accords so far," Pompeo said, adding that he hopes the nation will encourage Palestinian leaders or the Palestinian Authority to return to negotiations with Israel.

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain last month signed agreements toward normalizing relations with Israel in a strategic realignment of Middle Eastern countries against Iran.

"They reflect a changing dynamic in the region, in which countries rightly recognize the need for regional cooperation to counter Iranian influence and generate prosperity," Pompeo said. The United States is trying to persuade more Gulf countries to strike similar accords with Israel, as the UAE and Bahrain did at the Sept. 15 ceremony in Washington.

Riyadh has quietly acquiesced to the UAE and Bahrain deals – though it has stopped short of endorsing them – and has signaled it is not ready to take action itself.

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and site of its holiest shrines, drew up a 2002 initiative under which Arab nations offered to normalize ties with Israel in return for a statehood deal with the Palestinians and full Israeli withdrawal from territory captured in 1967.

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