A Star of David-adorned El Al plane took off Monday from Israels Ben-Gurion Airport, carrying a high-ranking US and Israeli delegation to Abu Dhabi in the first-ever direct commercial passenger flight to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).


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The Israeli flag carriers flight marks the implementation of the historic US-brokered deal to normalise relations between the two nations and solidifies the long-clandestine ties between them that have evolved over years of shared enmity toward Iran.

The historic flight came as several people were injured on Monday in an explosion at fast-food restaurants in the Emirati capital, Abu Dhabi, that was likely caused by gas lines in a restaurant, according to officials. In a second incident, one person was killed when a gas cylinder exploded in a Dubai restaurant, local media reported.

With the US as mediator, Israel and the UAE agreed earlier this month to work toward normalisation, which would make the UAE the third Arab nation to have full relations with Israel, after Egypt and Jordan. But unlike those two nations, Israel has never fought a war against the UAE and hopes to have much-warmer relations.

The US delegation included President Donald Trumps son-in-law Jared Kushner, as well as national security adviser Robert OBrien, Mideast envoy Avi Berkowitz and envoy for Iran Brian Hook. Israel's team included national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and the director generals of several ministries.

“While this is a historic flight, we hope that this will start an even more historic journey for the Middle East and beyond,” Kushner told reporters before boarding the plane.

Israeli officials hope the two-day trip will produce a date for a Washington signing ceremony, perhaps as early as September, between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

'Go in peace'

Meir Ben-Shabbat, Israels national security adviser and head of the Israeli delegation, said he was excited about the trip and that the aim was to lay the groundwork for cooperation in areas like tourism, medicine, technology and trade.

“This morning the traditional greeting of go in peace takes on a special significance for us," he said.

The El Al flight, numbered LY971 as a gesture to the UAEs international calling code number, flew into Saudi Arabian airspace shortly after takeoff. That marked another historic first for Israel and at least an acquiescence by the kingdom for the UAE's move.

Saudi King Salman, along with other Gulf Arab leaders to varying degrees, maintain their boycotts of Israel in support of Palestinians obtaining an independent state.

Palestinians were dismayed by the UAE's move, worried that it would weaken a long-standing pan-Arab position that called for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory – and acceptance of Palestinian statehood – in return for normal relations with Arab countries.

El Al spokesman Stanley Morais said the 737-900 is equipped with a missile-defense system, a standard feature on these types of planes and a requirement for this flight. After grounding its fleet due to the coronavirus, it is the airlines first flight since July 1.

Joint ventures, future business deals

The Israeli delegation will stay in the capital, Abu Dhabi, for one night before returning home on El Al flight LY972, a nod to Israels international calling code.

Private jets have earlier flown between the two nations as part of covert talks, and Abu Dhabis Etihad Airways flew cargo freighters to Israel before to deliver coronavirus aid to the Palestinians. But the high-profile flight Monday, eagerly promoted by US officials, looks to place a solid stamp on the surprise August 13 White House announcement of Israel and the UAE establishing ties.

Since then, telephone calls were connected, and the UAEs ruler issued a decree formally ending the countrys decades-long boycott of Israel. Some Israeli firms have already signed deals with Emirati counterparts, but Mondays visit is expected to usher in a slew of further business cooperation. The official repeal of the boycott looks to open the door to more joint ventures, such as in aviation, banking and finance.

The UAE has touted the deal as a tool to force Israel into halting its contentious plan to annex parts of the West Bank sought by the Palestinians for their future state. It also may help the Emirates acquire advanced US weapons systems that have been previously unattainable, such as the F-35 fighter jet. Currently, Israel is the only country in the region with the stealth warplanes.

The Palestinians, however, have fiercely opposed the normRead More – Source

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