The first-ever passenger flight from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Israel has landed near Tel Aviv, a month after the countries signed an agreement normalising ties.
Etihad Airways flight EY 9607 from Abu Dhabi landed early on Monday morning at Ben Gurion airport with only crew on board, a spokeswoman for the Israel Airports Authority told the AFP news agency.
The plane picked up Israeli tourism professionals, who would be flying to the UAE for a two-day visit organised by Israeli company Maman Group, the spokeswoman said.
The UAE carrier said it had made “history”.
“Etihad has become the first Gulf airline to operate a passenger flight to Israel. And this is only the beginning,” the airline said on Twitter.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the inaugural flight “a great thing”.
“We are making historic changes here,” he told a meeting of his Likud Party.
Etihad said it plans regular passenger flights between the countries in the future and was launching a dedicated Hebrew website.
Etihad planes had landed at Ben Gurion with medical supplies in May and June to help the Palestinians tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
The Palestinians, who oppose the agreement Israel forged with the UAE, refused to receive the aid.
In August, Israel and the UAE announced they had reached a US-brokered deal to normalise ties, following years of discreet economic and security cooperation.
Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, ratified the UAE deal last week.
The UAE cabinet on Monday approved the agreement to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel.
A cabinet statement said the accord would be “an avenue of peace and stability to support the ambitions of the region’s people and enhance efforts for prosperity and advancement, especially as it paves the way for deepening economic, culture and knowledge ties”.
The UAE and Israel were set on Tuesday to sign an agreement authorising 28 weekly commercial flights between the countries, a transportation ministry official said.
In Manama on Sunday, Israel and Bahrain signed a deal to establish relations, formalising a deal agreed to at the White House last month.
The UAE and Bahrain are only the third and fourth Arab states to normalise ties with Israel, following Israel’s 1979 peace deal with Egypt and a 1994 pact with Jordan.
On Monday, the Emirati and Bahraini governments ratified the normalisation agreements with Israel, according to the two countries’ state news agencies.
Earlier on Monday, Netanyahu visited the Israeli Mediterranean port of Haifa where a cargo ship from the UAE was moored.
“This is the second visit to Israel of a ship from Dubai that has anchored in Haifa port,” he said in a statement after boarding the vessel.
“I asked what is in the containers and they explained to me – washing machines,” he said. “Everything that arrives here simply lowers the cost of living and every citizen of Israel will feel the impact of it.”
The first cargo ship from the Emirates docked in Haifa a week ago carrying electronics and other goods and a port spokesman told AFP such arrivals were expected to become a weekly occurrence.