2020 has been marked by an accelerated rate of official normalisation of ties between Arab states and Israel.
Budget airline flydubai on Thursday launched direct flights to Tel Aviv, the first scheduled commercial service between the two cities, following the normalisation of ties between the UAE and Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be on hand for the arrival of the inaugural flight after its nearly four-hour trip, his spokesman said.
“PM Netanyahu will attend this morning the welcoming ceremony for the first @flydubai commercial flight that will arrive at Ben-Gurion International Airport,” Ofir Gendelman said in a tweet.
“These are the fruits of peace Dear Emirati tourists, welcome to Israel!”
The United Arab Emirates in September signed a US-brokered deal to formalise relations with Israel, the first such agreement by an Arab state in the Gulf.
With their economies hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, the UAE and Israel are hoping for rapid dividends from the normalisation deal, including an influx of tourists as Dubai enters its winter high season.
“The start of scheduled flights will contribute to economic development and create further opportunities for investment,” flydubai CEO Ghaith al-Ghaith said when the service was announced earlier this month.
The Dubai carrier will fly the route twice daily, and Israeli airlines El Al and Israir are both expected to launch their commercial services between the cities next month.
Etihad Airways, based in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, has said it will begin flying to Tel Aviv in March 2021.
The scheduled flights come as the UAE reportedly stopped issuing new visas to citizens of 13 mostly Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria and Somalia, according to a document issued by a state-owned business park.
The document, which was sent to companies operating in the park and was seen by the Reuters news agency, cited an immigration circular that came into effect on November 18.
It said applications for new employment and visit visas were suspended until further notice for nationals outside the UAE from countries including Afghanistan, Libya, and Yemen.
The UAE became only the third Arab country to normalise ties with Israel, following Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.
The two countries have already signed treaties on visa-free travel – although that is yet to come into force – along with accords on investment protection, science and technology.
Since the historic agreement, Bahrain and Sudan have followed suit and agreed to forge ties.
The agreements shattered a long-standing Arab consensus that there should be no normalisation with Israel until it reaches a comprehensive peace deal with the Palestinians.
Officials from the Palestinian Authority have condemned the normalisation deals as a “stab in the back” by the Arab states.
Several Gulf Arab states have for years been quietly building relations with Israel on the basis of shared animosity towards Iran, with the US supporting the process.
Regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia has so far refrained from formalising ties with Israel but has given the green light to overflights from the Jewish state, in an implicit sign of approval.
After the UAE deal was announced by President Donald Trump in August, El Al flew a delegation of US and Israeli officials – led by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner – to Abu Dhabi in an historic direct service between the two countries.
That was followed by an official visit by a UAE delegation to Tel Aviv as well as a string of charter flights carrying business groups.