El Al Flight 971 departed this morning from Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport and landed three hours later in Abu Dhabi. This first commercial flight from Israel to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was permitted to cross Saudi airspace, which had previsously been blocked to Israeli air traffic.
The historic flight carried an Israeli and an American delegation, set to discuss with their UAE counterparts details of the normalization agreement announced Aug. 13. The two delegations were welcomed by UAE officials. The Israeli delegation is headed by chief of the National Security Council Meir Ben-Shabbat; the American delegation is headed by US national security adviser Robert O’Brien and senior US presidential adviser Jared Kushner.
The two delegations will stay in Abu Dhabi until late tomorrow, and are expected to hold a series of meetings on a range of issues ahead of signing cooperation agreements in civil and economic fields, including aviation, diplomacy, entry visas, health, culture and tourism, space, science, innovation and trade. The three national security advisers — Ben-Shabbat, O’Brien and UAE national security adviser Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed — will also hold a meeting.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry is highly represented in the delegation; its Director Gen. Alon Ushpiz — together with Gen. Ronen Peretz, director of the prime minister's office — will coordinate the work of government ministries in the civil and economic spheres. The Foreign Ministry has had an envoy in Abu Dhabi for several years now, representing the country at the International Renewable Energy Agency. Other Foreign Ministry staff were dispatched to Abu Dhabi following the Aug. 13 announcement. The Israeli delegation arriving today will be backed by these experienced diplomats.
On Aug. 29, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the ruler of Abu Dhabi, issued a decree formally ending the country’s boycott of Israel, stating, "The decree of the new law comes within the UAE's efforts to expand diplomatic and commercial cooperation with Israel." He added that the decree lays out "a road map toward launching joint cooperation, leading to bilateral relations by stimulating economic growth and promoting technological innovation."
Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi hailed the announcement, calling it "an important step toward peace, which will yield substantial economic and commercial achievements for both people while strengthening the stability in the region. I praise UAE President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan for this historic decision and call upon other countries to follow the UAE’s brave footsteps.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also congratulated the move, stating, “I welcome the decision of United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed to cancel the law on boycotting products from Israel and economic contacts with Israelis. This is an important step in promoting prosperity and peace in the region."