Historic Flight From Israel to UAE Takes Off, Carrying Israeli, U.S Delegations

Direct flight between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi will fly over Saudi airspace, in first for Israeli commercial airliner

Noa Landau
Noa Landau
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El Al's airliner lifting off from the tarmac in the first-ever commercial flight from Israel to the UAE at the Ben Gurion Airport, August 31, 2020.
Noa Landau
Noa Landau

An Israeli delegation departed for Abu Dhabi on Monday morning to hold meetings to finalize the normalization agreement with the United Arab Emirates.

The delegation is headed by National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat, and joined by his U.S. counterpart Robert O'Brien and senior U.S. Presidential Adviser Jared Kushner.

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Flight data website Flightradar24 showed the El Al flight LY971 crossing the Jordanian-Saudi border about 25 minutes after take off, crossing into the Al Jawf Province in northern Saudi Arabia, which does not recognize Israel, in the first publicly acknowledged entry of an Israeli plane into Saudi air space.

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Speaking at Ben-Gurion International Airport before takeoff, Kushner said that "we hope this will start an even more historic journey," adding that "this is a very hopeful time and I believe that so much Peace and prosperity are possible in this region and around the world."

"While this is a historic flight, we hope that this will start and even more historic journey for the Middle East and beyond. I prayed yesterday at the [Western] Wall that Muslims and Arabs from throughout the world will be watching this flight, recognizing that we are all children of god and that the future does not have to be predetermined by the past," Kushner said moments before boarding the flight. "I believe that so much peace and prosperity is possible in this region and throughout the world."

U.S. Presidential Adviser Jared Kushner(C-R) and National Security Adviser Robert OBrien(C-L) with members of the Israeli-American delegation to Abu Dhabi, at Ben-Gurion Airport, on August 31, 2020.
U.S. Presidential Adviser Jared Kushner(C-R) and National Security Adviser Robert OBrien(C-L) with members of the Israeli-American delegation to Abu Dhabi, at Ben-Gurion Airport, on August 31, 2020. Credit: menahem kahana/AFP

O'brien, speaking after Kushner, added that he is "looking forward to see our friends and- colleagues [in the UAE]," and reiterated that this is "a historic day that relates to peace." O'brien also thanked Netanyahu, Trump and ben Zayed for showing "a tremendous amount of courage," and "taking the risk" to bring forth this agreement.   

Ben Shabbat said he is "excited and proud to lead the Israeli delegation to Abu Dhabi. Our goal is to formulate a joint plan to promote relations in the fields of health, aviation, innovation, science and technology and technology. "

Passengers were welcomed in Arabic as well as English and Hebrew, a gesture marking the historic move. "Wishing us all salaam, peace and shalom, have a safe flight," the pilot, Captain Tal Becker, said on the intercom, in Arabic, English and Hebrew, using all three languages to also announce the flight number and destination.

An Israeli delegation led by National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat, President Trump's senior adviser Jared Kushner, at Ben Gurion International Airport, Israel August 31, 2020.
An Israeli delegation led by National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat, President Trump's senior adviser Jared Kushner, at Ben Gurion International Airport, Israel August 31, 2020.Credit: REUTERS/Nir Elias

Agents from the U.S. Secret Service and Israel's Shin Bet domestic security agency are among those onboard. An El Al spokesman said the plane was equipped with a C-Music anti-missile system on its rear carriage -- standard for the 737s in the carrier's fleet. "With two countries' NSAs (national security agencies) on board, you understand the sensitivity," an American delegate said.

The Israeli and U.S. officials boarded an El Al plane on the first direct flight operated by a commercial airline between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Upon landing the delegations will be given an official reception at the airport, an official statement by Israel's Prime Minister's Office said.

Asked if the plane would fly over Saudi Arabia in order to manage its planned three hour and 20 minute flight time, the source, who declined to be identified by name or nationality pending an official announcement of the route, said: "Yes." The four countries and El Al have declined to comment on the route.

The visit to the UAE capital will last two days and will include joint working meetings on a variety of topics, prior to signing cooperation agreements in areas such as aviation, tourism and the economy. Security will be discussed separately.

During the visit, Ben Shabbat and O'Brien will hold a tripartite meeting with the UAE's National Security Adviser, Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Ben Shabbat will also meet with other senior Emirati officials.

On Saturday, UAE president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan
officially cancelled his country's economic boycott of Israel. According to official news agency WAM, the new decree will allow Israelis and Israeli firms to do business in the UAE, as well as the purchase and trade of Israeli goods.

Reuters contributed to this report. 

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