The first direct commercial flight between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) landed in Abu Dhabi on Monday, almost three weeks after the two countries sealed an historic diplomatic deal.
“We just completed a truly historic flight, the first ever Israeli commercial flight from Israel to [an] Arab Gulf country. This hopefully will be the first of many,” White House advisor Jared Kushner, who was among the US-Israeli delegation, said upon arrival.
The passengers also included the security advisors of the United States and Israel, Robert O’Brien and Meir Ben-Shabbat, among others.
Kushner praised Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of the emirate of Abu Dhabi. “Mohammed bin Zayed is truly leading the new Middle East,” he said.
He also thanked Saudi Arabia’s King Salman for allowing the flight to use the kingdom’s airspace. “Also historic was the king of Saudi Arabia granting permission for this Israeli commercial flight to use its space. This is the first time that this has ever happened.” he said.
“On the plane we asked the pilots to fly faster because there is great urgency between the peoples of both countries to break down old barriers, to get to know each other and to form new and hopefully very deep friendships. While this peace was forged by its leaders, it is overwhelmingly desired by the people,” he added.
“I ask everyone today to join us in celebrating this peace and to help us expand it throughout the region and the entire world,” Kushner said.
Talks are scheduled between the delegations of Israel, the UAE and the US, covering a wide range of topics from tourism to finance, with the aim of signing several cooperation agreements.
A meeting of O’Brien and Ben-Shabbat with the Emirati security advisor Tahnoun bin Zayed is also on the schedule.
On August 13, Israel and the UAE announced a US-brokered agreement to establish diplomatic ties in return for Israel suspending a controversial plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.
The deal makes the UAE the first Gulf country to have diplomatic links with Israel. There has been widespread speculation about whether other Arab nations will follow suit. Egypt and Jordan have peace treaties with Israel.
The first commercial passenger flight, operated by Israeli airline El Al, left Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport earlier in the day.
The plane, a Boeing 737-900 named after the central Israeli town Kiryat Gat, had the word “peace” written in Arabic, English and Hebrewa above the pilot’s side window.
Pilot Tal Becker told journalists it was the most exciting flight of his life and “a very special feeling.”
“We are about to board a historic flight,” Kushner said before take-off.
“This is a very hopeful time and I believe that so much peace and prosperity is possible in this region and throughout the world,” Kushner said.
The aircraft was reportedly fitted with anti-rocket protection systems for security.
A return flight is planned for Tuesday.
On Saturday, The ruler of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, issued a decree ending a law on the boycott of Israel.
The ending of the boycott allows individuals and companies to forge deals with entities and individuals who live in Israel, have Israeli citizenship or work on behalf of Israel wherever they are.
It also allows the entry, exchange, possession of and trade in Israeli goods inside the UAE.The two countries pledged on Sunday to cooperate on food and water security during online talks between UAE Minister of State for Food Security Mariam Al Meihir and Israeli Minister of Agriculture Alon Schuster.