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Israel to allow overflights to and from Qatar during soccer World Cup

Agreement with Jordanian, European authorities to shorten flights comes after deal to allow Israelis to attend tournament in Nov.-Dec.

A Qatar Airways plane prepares to take off at San Francisco International Airport during the coronavirus pandemic in San Francisco, December 22, 2020(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)
A Qatar Airways plane prepares to take off at San Francisco International Airport during the coronavirus pandemic in San Francisco, December 22, 2020(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

Israel will open its airspace for international flights to pass through on the way to and from Qatar during this year’s soccer World Cup, after a deal was reached Wednesday with Jordanian and European aviation authorities that is expected to shorten flight durations.

The development, announced by the Israel Airports Authority, came a week after the Israeli government feted a deal with world soccer body FIFA to allow Israeli soccer fans to travel to Qatar for the World Cup in November and December, despite the two nations having no formal diplomatic relations.

According to Wednesday’s announcement, European and American fans traveling to Qatar will be able to fly over Israel when traveling eastward from Cyprus to Jordan on the way to the Gulf, as well as on the way back.

A source familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel that the arrangement will continue even after the World Cup for eastbound flights to Qatar.

The Israel Aviation Authority (IAA), the Israeli Air Force and the Civil Aviation Authority reached the agreement with Jordan’s aviation authorities and with the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation, known as Eurocontrol.

The IAA said that the deal will see many more flights — beyond just those to and from Qatar — pass over Israel, resulting in the number of overflights more than doubling.

“Israel is showing sportsmanship and opening its aerial borders for the benefits of the passengers,” Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli said. “I welcome the collaboration and I’m happy to strengthen additional regional collaborations.”

People gather around the official countdown clock showing remaining time until the kickoff of the World Cup 2022, in Doha, Qatar, November 25, 2021. (AP/Darko Bandic)

Last week, the ministers of foreign affairs, defense and culture and sport announced in a joint statement that Israeli citizens — who ordinarily can only enter Qatar on a foreign passport — will be able to freely travel and attend games there during the upcoming tournament.

Under the terms of the deal reached with FIFA, the sport’s international governing body, Israelis seeking to attend must purchase a ticket to a game, then apply online for a fan ID card, approval of which grants its holder entry to Qatar and enables them to book accommodation.

The statement did not address security concerns about travel to Qatar, a nation with strong ties both with the West and with Iran and the Hamas terror group.

Efforts are also being made to facilitate direct flights from Israel to the tiny Gulf nation, the announcement said at the time. That issue remains unresolved, since Wednesday’s deal does not facilitate direct flights between Israel and Qatar.

Pressure on sporting tournaments has helped push new diplomatic horizons for Israel in the Gulf. In 2018, two years before agreeing to establish ties with Israel, Abu Dhabi began allowing the Israeli flag to be shown and anthem to be heard during sporting events, ending a longstanding policy the United Arab Emirates had shared with most other Gulf states.

Qatar hosted an Israeli trade office from 1995 to 2000, but is seen as unlikely to join other Gulf states in establishing full ties with Israel due to its relationship with Iran.

Amy Spiro contributed to this report.

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