Israel’s coronavirus cabinet has decided to reopen Israeli skies on Aug. 16.
By Rina Bassist
Israel’s coronavirus cabinet voted to lift a series of restrictions Aug. 5. The most significant concerns air travel, with the country’s skies reopening as of Aug. 16. The cabinet also voted to cancel weekend closures on shopping centers, stores and markets.
The resumption of air travel is not going to be simple. The authorities have now 11 days to form a plan for reopening Israel to air traffic. This means that border-entry requirements will be relaxed for non-Israelis, who have been banned from visiting the country for months. The ministers in charge — Transportation Minister Miri Regev, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi — must quickly reach agreement on the measures needed to be taken.
Israel closed its borders rather quickly when the pandemic first broke out and implemented several preventive measures. But even then, some flights from the United States and other destinations kept operating. Israel managed to keep the number of infected low and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu engaged with other "green countries" with low infection rates to advance the mutual opening of borders. Senior Greek and Cypriot officials visited Israel to discuss the idea.
The second coronavirus wave in Israel halted these plans as Israel slid into the "red" category. The travel bubble plan went down the drain and the current push to reopen air travel will evidently affect only travelers coming from countries authorizing flights to and from Israel.
Another complication on the way to reopening Israeli skies is Israel’s national carrier El Al. The company was hit hard by the pandemic-induced economic crisis and is on the verge of bankruptcy. At the beginning of June, the Ministry of Finance proposed a bailout deal, with El Al receiving a $250 million loan. Additional $150 million would be raised in an offering on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, with the state committing to buy any shares not purchased by the public. The current major shareholder — the Borovitz family — has clarified it will not participate in the offering.
In July, after the bailout was solidified, a name of a new buyer came up. Israeli regulations demand that the major stakeholder be an Israeli resident. Eli Rozenberg, a yeshiva student, is the son of New York businessman Kenny Rozenberg. Still, the board of El Al is expressing some reservations. Its members are wondering if the real buyer is not Kenny Rozenberg, who is a foreign resident. As such, he cannot buy controlling shares of El Al. On Aug. 2, the board refused to meet with the potential buyer, saying they are waiting on clarification of his identity.