Israeli, US officials land in UAE in first direct flight from Tel Aviv

El Al plane overflies Saudi Arabia on its way to Abu Dhabi.
Monday 31/08/2020
An official stands at the door of an Israeli El Al airliner after it landed in Abu Dhabi, August 31. (AP)
An official stands at the door of an Israeli El Al airliner after it landed in Abu Dhabi, August 31. (AP)

Abu Dhabi - Top aides to US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu arrived in the United Arab Emirates on a historic flight from Tel Aviv on Monday as part of the normalisation agreement between the two countries.

Even before discussions start in Abu Dhabi, the delegates made aviation history when the Israeli commercial airliner flew over Saudi territory on the direct flight from Tel Aviv to the UAE capital.

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’s what peace for peace looks like,” Netanyahu tweeted, describing a deal for formal ties with an Arab state that does not entail handover of land that Israel captured in a 1967 war.

Announced on August 13, the normalisation deal includes a freeze on Israeli plans to annex West Bank territories which the Palestinians would like to include in their own independent state.

Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and US president’s senior adviser Jared Kushner are seated during the flight to Abu Dhabi, August 31. (AP)
Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and US president’s senior adviser Jared Kushner are seated during the flight to Abu Dhabi, August 31. (AP)

The UAE-Israel normalisation deal is the first such accommodation between an Arab country and Israel in more than 20 years.

Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and national security adviser Robert O’Brien head the US delegation. The Israeli team is led by O’Brien’s counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat. Officials will explore bilateral cooperation in areas such as commerce and tourism, and Israeli defence envoys are due to visit the UAE separately.

“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.

Ben-Shabbat 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 plane was decorated with the words for peace in Arabic, Hebrew and English above the pilot’s window. Journalists were handed special face masks decorated with the Israeli and Emirati flags.

Israeli officials hope the two-day trip will produce a date for a Washington signing ceremony, perhaps as early as September, between Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi’Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

That could give Trump a foreign policy boost ahead of his re-election bid in November.

The Trump administration has tried to coax other Arab countries to engage with Israel. Saudi Arabia, while opening its airspace to the El Al flight, has said it conditions normalisation on a prior Palestinian-Israeli deal.