Easing Tension in Middle East…Historic 1st Israel-UAE Plane Flies Directly over Saudi Arabia

US Presidential Adviser Jared Kushner (C), US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien (R) and Head of Israel's National Security Council Meir Ben-Shabbat (L) board the El Al's flight LY971, which will carry an Israeli-American delegation from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi, at the Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on August 31, 2020. (NIR ELIAS / POOL / AFP)

In a sign of easing tension in the Middle East, history was made on Monday with the first direct flight from Israel to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), The Independent has reported.

El Al flight 971 took off from Tel Aviv at 11.14am local time, and initially routed over Jordanian territory.

Forty minutes later, the Boeing 737 crossed into Saudi Arabian airspace, from which the Israeli national airline had previously been banned.

El Al has suspended normal passenger operations until October at the earliest, but dispatched the flight to mark an Israel-UAE agreement to normalise relations.

The passengers on board are members of a US-Israeli delegation, led by Jared Kushner – President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser – and Israel’s national security advisor, Meir Ben Shabbat.

The agreement has been claimed as a foreign policy success by Donald Trump. But Palestinian groups have described the deal as a “stab in the back.”

The word “peace” was painted on the aircraft in English, Hebrew and Arabic.

The flight number, 971, was chosen as it is the international dialling code for the UAE.

The return flight is numbered 972, which is the code for Israel.

Until now, the only Arab nations to establish relations with Israel have been Egypt and Jordan.

Travellers in the region have long faced problems if they have an Israeli stamp in their passport, or a stamp from Egypt or Jordan that indicates they have used a land border with Israel.

Some people have even been refused entry if they have old baggage tags indicating Israeli airports on their luggage.

While Israeli citizens could visit the UAE, previously they have had to take connecting flights.

Ahead of the flight, Israel’s health ministry removed the obligation for arrivals from the UAE to self-isolate for 14 days.

Idowu Sowunmi