Just two days ago, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) made history by officially cancelling its boycott against Israel. On Monday, it did it again by opening its airspace to the first ever direct flight from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi.
But this historic day did not pass without tragedy.
Just hours before the Israeli flight landed, two explosions rocked restaurants in the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi and its tourism hub of Dubai. At least three people were killed and several others wounded.
UAE news sources reported that the incidents were caused by exploding gas containers in the kitchens of the fast food restaurants in question, and made no mention of nefarious intent.
Amateur footage uploaded to social media showed the extensive damage caused by the Abu Dhabi blast.
Despite the official reports’ lack of any wording suggesting terrorism, that’s precisely what many in Israel thought after seeing the breaking news update.
— INTELSky (@Intel_Sky) August 31, 2020
The blasts occurred just before a commercial Israeli flight carrying US and Israeli officials was scheduled to land in Abu Dhabi, the first direct flight between the two countries. What’s more, the explosion in Abu Dhabi occurred at a KFC restaurant located on what’s called “airport road,” presumably along the very route the Americans and Israelis were to travel after arriving in the UAE capital.
There is no lack of terrorist organizations in the region that oppose the Israel-UAE normalization deal. And Israel itself has certainly seen this kind of thing before, if indeed the incidents in the UAE turn out to be linked to terrorism.
Just before departing Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv, the pilot of El Al flight 971 (the flight number is the same as the UAE’s country calling code; for the return flight, the call sign will be 972, Israel’s calling code), Tal Becker, welcomed his passengers:
“This flight records two significant events in the history of the State of Israel and in the region heralding another step towards regional peace — for the very first time an Israeli-registered aircraft will overfly Saudi Arabia, and, after a nonstop flight from Israel, land in the United Arab Emirates. At the end of this historic nonstop flight, the wheels of this aircraft, with the flag of the State of Israel on its tail, will touch down on the runway in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE. This will be another significant event in our history, just as El Al was there when peace was signed between Jerusalem, Cairo and Amman. We are all excited and look forward to more historic flights that will take us to other capital cities in the region, advancing us all to a more prosperous future.”
???? “Ladies & gentlemen, Shalom & welcome onboard flight 971 from Tel aviv to Abu Dhabi.”
ELAL Captain of #PeaceFlight0971 delivers message of hope for many more such flights in our region.
— Israel ישראל (@Israel) August 31, 2020
Not only did Saudi Arabia give permission for the Israeli flight to use its airspace, the plane actually passed right over the Saudi capital of Riyadh.
History in the making: ????????✈️????????#PeaceFlight0971 of Israeli airline ELAL flying over #SaudiArabia???????? for the first time ever, on its way to #AbuDhabi, #UAE.#IsraelUAE #UAEIsrael
— Israel ישראל (@Israel) August 31, 2020
Just before landing in Abu Dhabi, the El Al flight made what appeared to be an unscheduled detour and flew over the neighboring country of Oman for several minutes, according to GPS flight trackers.
Israel and Oman have been warming to each other for many years already, and the flyover was seen as a diplomatic nod to Muscat.
The dramatic sight of an El Al flight emblazoned with the Star of David landing on the tarmac in Abu Dhabi is one that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said we can see much more of in the very near future.
— Amichai Stein (@AmichaiStein1) August 31, 2020
Mutual desire for peace
If there’s one thing the Israel-UAE deal demonstrates, it’s the mutual desire for peace burning in the hearts of both Israelis and many of their Arab neighbors after so many years of war and hostility.
Just before leaving Tel Aviv, El Al painted the word “Peace” in Arabic, English and Hebrew on the nose of flight 971.
El AL put the word “peace” in Hebrew, English and Arabic on the plane for the first commercial flight from Israel to the UAE, set to depart tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/eUf6d3UXHb
— Lahav Harkov (@LahavHarkov) August 30, 2020
A day before the historic flight, Roi Kais, a reporter for Israel’s Kan TV news who is currently in the UAE, posted a video of local children celebrating the new peace with Israel.
ממתק שקיבלתי מהאמירויות לקראת הטיסה ההיסטורית מחר pic.twitter.com/EdrNgpBTc7
— roi kais • רועי קייס (@kaisos1987) August 30, 2020