In fresh sign of warming ties, Israeli airliner enters Sudan’s airspace

In fresh sign of warming ties, Israeli airliner enters Sudan’s airspace

Direct flight from Buenos Aires to Tel Aviv shortened by 2 hours; Sudanese authorities insisted aircraft enter its airspace only after local TV news broadcasts end

A screenshot from a flight tracker site showing an El Al flight over Sudan's airspace, June 4, 2020. (Screenshot: flightradar24)
A screenshot from a flight tracker site showing an El Al flight over Sudan's airspace, June 4, 2020. (Screenshot: flightradar24)

An El Al plane flying from Argentina crossed through Sudan’s airspace on Thursday, the first Israeli airliner to do so, in another sign of warming ties between the Jewish state and the Arab African country, which had long been hostile to Israel.

The plane, marked ELY046, was seen on flight tracker site flightradar24 entering Sudan’s airspace around 9:30 p.m. (Israel time), about 12 hours after it took off from Buenos Aires, and was scheduled to land in Tel Aviv around midnight.

The development, if it turns permanent, would allow for direct flights between Ben Gurion Airport and Buenos Aires to be shortened by some two hours. The journey thus far has taken about 16 hours.

A source involved in the matter confirmed to The Times of Israel that it was the first time a commercial Israeli airliner received permission to fly over Sudan.

The National Security Council was involved, the source said.

An illustrative photo of an El Al plane taking off from Ben Gurion Airport on September 3, 2014. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Wednesday’s flight to Buenos Aires, carrying kosher food inspectors, took the usual, longer route, first flying due West over the Mediterranean Sea and turning south only after passing Spain, according to the source.

The green light for the return flight to cross over Sudan was surprisingly given Thursday, but Sudanese authorities sought to minimize the attention the development would get, so they insisted that the flight be delayed so that it would only enter its airspace after the country’s evening news ended, the source said.

El Al declined to comment for the article, and the Foreign Ministry did not respond to The Times of Israel’s request for comment.

Although it was the first Israeli airliner to fly over Sudan, it was not the first plane from the Jewish state to do so.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in February that an Israeli aircraft had made a first flight over Sudan just two weeks after he had met with the Arab state’s leader in Uganda.

An Israeli government official said at the time that the plane was “a private Israeli executive jet,” not a flight with Israel’s national carrier, El Al. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

Sudanese Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the military council, speaks during a military-backed rally, in Omdurman district, west of Khartoum, Sudan, June 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

The premier met with the head of Sudan’s transitional government, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, in a major step toward improving ties.

Israel and Sudan were “discussing rapid normalization,” Netanyahu said at the time, adding that “the first Israeli airplane passed yesterday over the skies of Sudan.” He was speaking at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem.

Longtime Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir was ousted in a 2019 military coup amid pro-democracy protests, and Burhan heads the transitional council currently ruling the country.

Channel 13 reported last week that Israel had sent a plane with medical staff and equipment to Sudan in an attempt to save the life of a diplomat sick with COVID-19 who managed the clandestine ties between Jerusalem and Khartoum.

But 24 hours after the plane’s arrival, just days after she had contracted the virus, Najwa Gadaheldam died.

AP contributed to this report.

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