Hundreds of Israelis who landed in the United Arab Emirates on Monday morning were told they could not enter the country, apparently due to visa issues.
The incident at the Dubai airport came days after the Emirates said it would begin allowing Israelis to enter on tourist visas while a permanent visa waiver deal is being worked out between the two new allies.
The issue was eventually resolved after some four hours, after Israel’s Foreign Ministry intervened and the passengers applied for electronic visas.
According to Channel 12 news, some 200 travelers who arrived on a FlyDubai flight in the predawn hours of Monday were told that changes had been made in visa regulations and that only those holding non-Israeli passports could enter the kingdom — which had previously rolled out the red carpet for Israeli visitors.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Haiat said the issue seemingly stemmed from confusion over whether the passenger or the travel company needed to secure the visa.
A separate statement from the Foreign Ministry said the issue was resolved via the intervention of officials at the “most senior levels” and Israelis would soon be allowed in.
FlyDubai apologized in a statement carried by UAE media.
“We apologize to the 155 who were late when they arrived this morning (Monday). We review the reasons behind this delay, and we understand that this was inconvenient for our passengers’ schedules,” the airline said. “These are not the service standards we would expect for any of our passengers, and we re-check the process and procedures to prevent delays on subsequent flights.”
Abu Dhabi’s foreign ministry subsequently released a statement saying that “FlyDubai has apologized to the affected passengers who experienced a delay on arrival to Dubai on Monday. FlyDubai is currently reviewing the reasons behind the delay and is revalidating the processes and procedures to prevent any delays to subsequent flights. The policy permitting the entry of Israeli citizens remains unchanged, and Israeli citizens continue to be welcomed to the UAE.”
Two additional flights to Dubai by Israeli carriers Israir and Arkia were delayed from Ben Gurion Airport, apparently due to the entry issue, but eventually took off for Dubai.
Passengers stuck at the Dubai arrivals terminal expressed annoyance at the situation.
Channel 12 news claimed that the UAE had suspended Israeli visas starting at 7 p.m. Sunday, citing travel industry sources.
Israeli passengers who arrived on Sunday had already run into difficulties although four planeloads of travelers were eventually able to enter the country, the channel said.
Though Israel and the UAE signed a normalization agreement in September and agreed to a mutual visa waiver, there is still no formal visa agreement between the two countries.
Last week Abu Dhabi’s foreign ministry announced that in the meantime, tourist visas would be available through airlines and travel and tourism offices for Israeli passport holders, as the countries sought to fast track their burgeoning business and tourism relationship.
Israel’s cabinet has already ratified a mutual visa exemption agreement with the UAE — the Jewish state’s first-ever such agreement with an Arab country. The agreement was to enter into force sometime in December.
Direct flights between Israel and Dubai kicked off late last month with trips by UAE’s state-owned FlyDubai, followed by direct flights by Israeli airlines. Trips between Tel Aviv and Bahrain, another tiny Gulf kingdom that has established ties with Israel, are also set to be launched in the coming days.
In late November, several Middle Eastern travel agencies reported that the UAE had suddenly stopped giving visas to nationals from countries across the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia.
With their economies hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, the UAE and Israel are hoping for rapid dividends from the US-brokered normalization deal signed in September.
UAE’s move to normalize relations with Israel in August was quickly followed by Bahrain and Sudan also announcing similar plans.