Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat and U.S. President's senior adviser Jared Kushner and U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien pose for a group photo upon arrival at Abu Dhabi International Airport, United Arab Emirates August 31, 2020. (Image: Reuters)
In a historic step towards peace in the Middle East, the first commercial direct flight between Israel and the UAE landed in Abu Dhabi on August 31 after both countries announced normalisation of relations. The flight carried a top level Israeli delegation led by National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat while the US delegation was headed by US President Donald Trump's adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner and US National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien.
The delegation left aboard the commercial El Al flight 971 that took off from Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv at 11.21am local time. The word peace was painted on it in Arabic, English and Hebrew above a cockpit window.
"We just completed a truly historic flight. This hopefully will be the first of many," Kushner said after disembarking from the flight. He thanked leadership on both sides on the occasion. Saudi Arabia granted permission for the use of its air space.
"Peace overwhelmingly desired by the people, except by those who exploit misery to remain in power. Future belongs to industrious people of the region," Kushner said.
Israel and the UAE announced on August 13 that they were establishing full diplomatic relations, in a US-brokered deal that required Israel to suspend its plan to annex parts of the West Bank. UAE is only the third Arab country to establish diplomatic ties with the Jewish state. Israel's neighbours, Egypt and Jordan, being the other two Arab states to recognise the Jewish state.
The development is being seen as a major breakthrough because the Israeli national carrier, El Al, flew over the Saudi airspace, which is being interpreted by analysts as acceptance of Israel by the Gulf countries in general, and a probable normalisation of ties with some of the other "friendly countries" in that region.
Kushner said that the message for Palestinians is full of hope and there is an economic and political plan ready that can revitalise their economy.
"The region is very excited to move them forward but they cannot remain stuck in the past. Peace and opportunity will be ready for them as soon as they are ready to embrace them," he said.
Netanyahu during a press conference on August 30 said the breakthrough signalled the end of a "Palestinian veto".
"I think for too long the Palestinians have had a veto on peace. Not only between Israel and the Palestinians but between Israel and the Arab world," the Israeli prime minister said.
"If we have to wait for the Palestinians, we would have to wait forever. No longer. The Palestinians, when they realise that their veto has dissipated, will be hard pressed to remain outside the community of peace," he added.
Speaking alongside Kushner and O'Brien, Netanyahu expressed hopes that the normalisation of Israel-UAE ties will pave the way for treaties with more Arab countries.
Most of the Arab countries over the years have linked normalisation of ties with Israel to a peace agreement and just settlement of Israel-Palestinian conflict. Palestinian leaders have condemned the UAE for agreeing to normalise relations with Israel, calling the move "despicable and a betrayal".
On being asked about the possible sale of F-35 stealth jets to the UAE, Kushner said, "Prime Minister Netanyahu and the president (Donald Trump) will discuss that at some point," the official WAM news agency reported. The news agency WAM said the delegation also comprised of representatives from the investment, finance, health, civil space and aviation, foreign policy, diplomacy, tourism, and culture sectors.
The visiting delegates are scheduled to meet with representatives of UAE government agencies to discuss ways to develop relations in related fields and promote opportunities for cooperation. This visit comes as part of trilateral efforts to initiate normalised relations with the aim of achieving peace, stability, and support for bilateral cooperation.
According to local reports, a return flight from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv is scheduled for September 1 afternoon.
"Another step toward regional peace. We are all excited and look forward to more historic flights that will take us to other capital cities in the region, advancing us all to a more prosperous future," Tal Becker, the pilot of the plane, was quoted as saying in the report.
The special plane, El Al 737-900, is equipped with a system to protect aircraft against aerial threats like ground-to-air missiles, the report said.
The Directed IR Countermeasures (DIRCM) manufactured by Elbit Systems defend aircraft by detecting, tracking and jamming incoming infrared threats like heat-seeking ground-to-air missiles and shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, also known as man-portable air defense systems (MANPADs), it said.
Earlier in Israel before take off, Ben-Shabbat said Israel's goals for the trip is to "reach a joint work plan to promote ties in a broad range of areas, including tourism, innovation, health and much more".
Many believe that the normalisation of ties with UAE could have come only with Saudi blessings but Riyadh is yet to establish formal diplomatic ties with Jerusalem but is believed to covertly cooperate closely with the Jewish state. Symbolic of direct connection between Israel and the UAE, the flight numbers have been marked LY971 on the way to Abu Dhabi and LY972 on the way back to Israel, using the telephone dialing code of the two countries.