First commercial Emirati flight lands; Netanyahu hails a ‘new era’

UAE’s state-owned airline flydubai offers twice-daily Dubai-Tel Aviv flights; PM predicts ‘with great confidence’ that more states will normalize relations with Israel soon

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday welcomed the first commercial flight to Israel by the United Arab Emirates’ state-owned flydubai airline at Ben Gurion Airport.

“This is a moment of history because it is the first commercial flight between Dubai and Israel,” he said shortly after flight number FZ1163 had landed in Tel Aviv.

“There will be many more, going both directions. But you can only be first once,” he said at a welcoming ceremony in the arrival hall. “And this is a pivotal moment, because we’re changing history. It’s not that we’re marching forward, we’re flying, with breakneck speed, into a new era that is now clearly changing the Middle East.”

He added: “For me, it’s the realization of a dream.”

Responding to a reporter’s questions about when Israelis will be able to fly to Saudi Arabia, the prime minister noted that Israeli airlines were already crossing Saudi airspace on their way eastward.

“I believe that the circle of normalization will continue to expand,” he said. “I say this with great confidence. Nothing is 100 percent guaranteed, but I think that if I’d have to look ahead, I’d say that in the coming months we will see additional countries that will join this circle, one way or another, to some degree or another. It cannot be stopped anymore.”

Shmuel Zakay, the director-general of Ben Gurion Airport, said he was impressed with the professionalism of the flydubai team and hoped the company’s decision to fly to Israel would prove successful.

“Flydubai will serve as an aviation bridge, connecting the peoples, business and cultures of the State of Israel and the United Arab Emirates,” he said.

An airplane of budget airline flydubai lands at Israel’s Ben Gurion aiport near Tel Aviv on November 26, 2020 on the first scheduled commercial service between the two cities, following the normalization of ties between the UAE and Israel. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The first flydubai plane to touch down in Israel actually landed earlier this month without great fanfare, but Thursday’s flight marked the official launch of the airline’s Tel Aviv-Dubai route.

The Emirati budget airliner is offering twice-daily flights between the two cities.

“The start of scheduled flights will contribute to economic development and create further opportunities for investment,” flydubai CEO Ghaith al-Ghaith said when the service was announced earlier this month.

On Sunday, Israel’s cabinet ratified a mutual visa exemption agreement with the UAE — the Jewish state’s first ever such agreement with an Arab country. The agreement will enter into force next month.

“This is the first Arab country with which we have signed such an agreement and this is a step that will facilitate reciprocal tourism,” Netanyahu said before the vote at the weekly cabinet meeting.

“Of course, this will develop and strengthen ties between the countries as well as economic links. I believe that every citizen of Israel, the entire world, sees the great change that we are bringing to our region in every field.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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