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After flying over Saudi Arabia, 1st Israeli commercial flight lands in Dubai

‘A truly festive day,’ says captain in call with Netanyahu. ‘It’s a great privilege to reach this moment’; Israir plane flies over kingdom after receiving last-minute permission

An Israir plane lands at the airport in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on December 1, 2020. (Screen capture: Twitter)
An Israir plane lands at the airport in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on December 1, 2020. (Screen capture: Twitter)

The first Israeli commercial flight to the United Arab Emirates touched down in Dubai on Tuesday, passing over Saudi Arabia after receiving last-minute overflight permission from the kingdom.

The Israir flight took just over three hours, less than half the time it would take if the plan had to fly around Saudi Arabia, and marked a major milestone in burgeoning ties between Israel and its new Gulf allies.

“A truly festive day,” Hagi Kenaan, the plane’s captain, said in a phone call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “It’s a great privilege to reach this moment.”

The premier responded that the flight was the “embodiment of peace.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a ceremony welcoming the first commercial flydubai flight to Israel, at Ben Gurion Airport, November 26, 2020 (Avi Ohayun/GPO)

“We see the fruits of peace today as well. When we land in Israel we applaud. I also applaud your landing in Dubai thanks to our wonderful peace agreement, and there will be more. Great congratulations – may you continue over and over,” Netanyahu said, according to a statement from his office.

Riyadh did not grant permission for the plane to traverse Saudi airspace until Monday evening, raising concerns the flight would be cancelled.

“You can say that already for a week we haven’t slept at night until we knew we had received all the authorizations,” Gil Stav, vice president of sales and marketing for Israir, told Channel 13 news before the flight.

He added: “Now we can fly today and carry out this historic flight and also carry out many more flights after it.”

Despite Stav’s comments about additional flights, Israeli television said the permission from Riyadh was only good for the next four days and only covers flights to Dubai, a significantly more paltry concession than what Netanyahu had touted in early September as a “huge breakthrough” that would “open up the East.”

The permission was only approved after a flurry of diplomatic activity, including reported US intervention.

Israeli officials had reached out to Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law who is set to travel to Saudi Arabia this week, to press Riyadh on the matter, the Ynet news site reported, quoting an unnamed official familiar with the matter.

Illustrative: An Israir flight taking off from Ben Gurion International Airport, Tel Aviv. September 3, 2015. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

Kushner’s visit is an apparent last-ditch effort to broker a normalization deal between the kingdom and Israel. He will meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Neom — the Red Sea city where Netanyahu last week allegedly held a secret rendezvous with the prince, alongside US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

It was the first known visit to Saudi Arabia by an Israeli leader, but the talks on Iran and possible normalization reportedly yielded no substantial progress.

The Trump administration has hoped Saudi Arabia would join the UAE and Bahrain in recognizing Israel and forging diplomatic ties, a move seen as increasingly distant in the wake of Joe Biden’s election as US president. But Saudi leaders have hitherto indicated that Israeli-Palestinian peace will have to come first.

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