Late Tuesday, America’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) placed a ban on all flights to Israel after a rocket fired from Gaza landed about a mile from Ben Gurion Airport. The European Union quickly followed suit, and air traffic to the Jewish state took a sudden and devastating dive.
Israeli Member of Knesset Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) pointed out the absurdity of the flight ban in a post to her Facebook profile:
“The American government has halted flights from the US to Israel because a Palestinian rocket from Gaza landed [in a town near the airport]. This is a strange decision coming from someone that is asking us to surrender Judea and Samaria (a mere 3 miles from the airport) to the Palestinians. Mortars on the airport terminal, not a big deal.”
By Thursday morning Israel time, the FAA ban had been lifted just as suddenly as it was imposed. The circumstances surrounding that development were equally interesting, given that the FAA had just hours earlier decided to extend the flight ban for another 24 hours.
On Wednesday, as the ban on flights to Israel began to take its toll, a senior member of the US Senate asked some very pointed questions that ultimately seem to have alleviated the situation.
In an open letter to the White House, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) threatened to suspend all State Department nomination hearings until the following questions were answered:
Was this decision a political decision driven by the White House? For instance, who was this decision made by – a career official, a political appointee, or someone else (at the FAA, State Department or White House?)
If the FAA’s decision was based on airline safety, why was Israel singled out, when flights would be permitted into Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen?
What was the FAA’s ‘safety’ analysis that led to prohibiting flights to Israel, while still permitting flights to Ukraine—where a commercial airline flight was just shot down with a BUK missile?
What specific communications occurred between the FAA and the White House? And the State Department? Why were any such communications necessary, if this was purely about airline safety?
Was this a safety issue, or was it using a federal regulatory agency to punish Israel to try to force them to comply with Secretary Kerry’s demand that Israel stop their military effort to take out Hamas’s rocket capacity?
Cruz never received any direct answers, but, as noted, the FAA ban was lifted suddenly and without explanation.