Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday accused the United Arab Emirates of committing “treachery” and “betrayal” after its Etihad Airways made history, flying the first known direct commercial flight between Israel and the UAE.
The UAE-based airline sent the plane loaded with 16 tons of coronavirus aid for Palestinians on a direct flight from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv on Tuesday.
But Iran’s top leader called the act a betrayal of the Palestinians.
“Today, some Persian Gulf states have committed the biggest treachery against their own history and the history of the Arab world,” Khamenei tweeted. “They have betrayed #Palestine by supporting Israel. Will the nations of these states tolerate their leaders’ betrayal?”
Today, some Persian Gulf states have committed the biggest treachery against their own history and the history of the Arab world. They have betrayed #Palestine by supporting Israel. Will the nations of these states tolerate their leaders’ betrayal?
— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) May 19, 2020
The Etihad cargo jet, painted in all white and missing any marking, landed at Ben-Gurion Airport just after 9 p.m. after seemingly flying a roundabout route through Iraq and either Jordan or Turkey.
The flight struck a rare moment of public cooperation between the UAE, home to Abu Dhabi and Dubai on the Arabian Peninsula, and Israel. The countries have no formal diplomatic ties to Israel, but have begun to increasingly cooperate openly after years of rumored back-channel discussions between them over the mutual enmity of Iran.
An Israeli official said the flight was delivering humanitarian aid provided by the UAE to the Palestinians through the World Food Program, and that the cargo flight was coordinated with the Israeli government. The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject.
Etihad, a state-owned, long-haul carrier, earlier confirmed the flight to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport.
“Etihad Airways operated a dedicated humanitarian cargo flight from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv on 19 May to provide medical supplies to the Palestinians,” the airline told The Associated Press. “The flight had no passengers on board.”
Emirati government officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The UAE’s state-run WAM news agency issued a statement saying it delivered 16 tons of protective gear, medical items and ventilators “to curb the spread of COVID-19 pandemic and its impact in the occupied Palestinian territory.” It did not acknowledge the flight or its significance.
Much of the coordination between Israel and the Gulf states is based on a shared concern over Iran, which has repeatedly threatened to destroy the Jewish state and seeks to exert its hegemony over the region.
The flight came during a period of heightened tension between Iran and Israel, with reports emerging Tuesday that Israel had carried out a cyberattack on an Iranian port in retaliation for an earlier Iranian attempt to hack Israel’s water infrastructure.
On Monday, Khamenei called for arming Palestinians in the West Bank.
“The West Bank must be armed, just as Gaza. The only thing that can reduce the Palestinians’ hardships is the hand of power. Otherwise, compromise won’t reduce a bit of the cruelty of this usurping, evil, wolf-like entity,” Khameinei tweeted.
The West Bank must be armed, just as Gaza. The only thing that can reduce the Palestinians’ hardships is the hand of power. Otherwise, compromise won’t reduce a bit of the cruelty of this usurping, evil, wolf-like entity.#FlyTheFlag
— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) May 18, 2020
Iran is the primary supplier of arms and rockets to terror groups in Lebanon and Gaza.
Meanwhile, a top Iranian legal official said Israel’s “annihilation” was closer than ever.
“On Quds Day, we come closer to annihilation of Israel,” Iran’s Judiciary Spokesman Gholam Hossein Esmayeeli told reporters in Tehran on Tuesday, according to the FARS news agency.
Al-Quds is the Arabic word for Jerusalem. Quds Day, marked by demonstrations against Israel and expressing support for Palestinians, is held on the last Friday of Ramadan, which this year is May 22.
Quds Day was declared in 1979 by Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the Iranian Revolution. It is marked throughout the Middle East and in countries around the world, including the United States. The Iranian regime organizes nationwide anti-Israel rallies, at which Israeli flags are trampled and burned.