Israeli media outlets welcomed EgyptAir’s recent decision to operate and increase the number of flights to Tel Aviv. They saw in the decision a step toward achieving full normalization and peace between the two peoples and a decision that serves Egypt’s economic interests.
Egypt took the new step toward boosting relations and cooperation with Israel with the state-owned EgyptAir Holding Company when it decided on March 22 to run flights to Tel Aviv.
EgyptAir chairman and CEO Capt. Roshdy Zakaria said at the 2021 Arab Aviation Summit held on March 22 in the United Arab Emirates, "EgyptAir is considering acquiring Cairo-Tel Aviv operations from [its subsidiary] Air Sinai."
Air Sinai is a small, low-key Egyptian airline that does not bear the Egyptian flag and currently runs the flights between Egypt and Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv.
In a report published on March 4, Israel’s i24news quoted unnamed officials as saying, “Israel has received an official request from EgyptAir to operate flights to Israel, instead of Air Sinai, which has run the route for the past decades, with former President Hosni Mubarak refusing to let the national carrier land in Israel with an Egyptian flag.”
According to the i24news report, Egypt is seeking to replace the smaller Air Sinai company — which currently operates seven flights a week using two designated aircraft — with the national carrier and increase flights to Israel to 21 per week.
The report said the decision came as Egypt perceives the so-called Abraham Accords signed between Israel, Bahrain and the UAE as reducing tensions in the region.
In a statement to i24news TV on March 4, Israeli political analyst Jay Azrael described the Egyptian request as an important step, saying, “The Egyptian move came in the aftermath of the peace agreements Israel signed with Sudan, the UAE and Bahrain.”
“Egypt feels that there is an opportunity to promote relations with Israel in a way Tel Aviv has not seen before. The former Egyptian presidents were uncomfortable taking decisions that would help improve bilateral relations,” he said.
Azrael explained that “[although] the Egypt-Israel peace treaty was signed in 1979, it [wasn't] until 1982 that they started running flights. The number of flights was low, and they were run by a small company, namely Air Sinai, and the aircraft did not have the Egyptian flag.”
“Israel’s success in building relations in the region prompted Egypt to see that there is an opportunity for cooperation and an economic opportunity available in Israel,” he said. “There are gains that Egypt could achieve from flying Israeli citizens to Morocco and other African countries via EgyptAir.”
“EgyptAir can benefit from the connecting flights in particular, as Israel and Egypt serve as a bridge to Africa,” he said, adding that the "changed atmosphere in the Middle East has strengthened cooperation between Egypt and Israel. Add to this the Egyptian leaders realized there is no harm from taking steps toward Israel.”
“There were mutual visits by Israeli and Egyptian officials lately. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been even working for months to arrange for a visit to Egypt,” he revealed. “It is in Israel's interest to promote relations with Egypt.”
“The Egyptian decision to increase the number of flights to Israel consists of a glimmer of hope for further normalization among the Egyptian and the Israeli peoples,” Azrael said.
This cooperation in civil aviation prompted Israeli airlines to submit to Egyptian authorities a request to operate direct commercial flights to the seaside resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh in the Sinai Peninsula.
Yedioth Ahronoth reported on March 14 that Israir Airlines Ltd. submitted to Egyptian authorities a request to operate direct commercial flights. The report said that in the event of Egyptian consent, Israir Airlines Ltd. would be the first Israeli carrier to run flights to Sharm el-Sheikh.
“Flights are currently being run from Israel to the Egyptian city in small private jets. Yet no official commercial route to Sharm el-Sheikh has been operated yet," stated the report.
Israir Airlines Ltd. is seeking to operate two flights a day from Ben Gurion airport, according to the report. At a later time, flights will also operate from Haifa to Sharm el-Sheikh.
According to the report, “Israir Airlines Ltd. has submitted in the past few days a request to operate two commercial flights per day to Egypt, and … they will be run once the required permits are obtained.”
Sabri Ragheb, owner of a Cairo-based agency that organizes pilgrimage trips to Israel, told Al-Monitor, “The [Egyptian] decision is advantageous to tourism companies, especially those organizing trips for the Copts to Jerusalem.”
"Having EgyptAir operate flights would facilitate the organization of trips between Israel and Egypt and would give tourism companies more options in organizing tourism trips between the two countries,” Ragheb added. “Under the rule of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt has become aware of the importance of economic cooperation with Israel as long as this cooperation serves Egypt’s economic interests.”
He explained that the advantages the decision to increase the number of flights will bring to tourism firms will be seen once the coronavirus travel and pilgrimage restrictions in Israel are lifted.
Ragheb stressed that South Sinai, more specifically Sharm el-Sheikh and Taba, are the top attractions for Israeli tourists, and making travel easier would boost tourism cooperation between the two countries.
According to the latest figures released by the Israeli Embassy in Egypt, the number of Israeli tourists to Egypt reached 700,000 in 2019. The embassy did not specify the locations Israelis visited in Egypt.
Meanwhile, no figures are available for the year 2020, which witnessed the coronavirus pandemic that forced flights to be halted and borders to be closed.