The coronavirus pandemic has provided an opportunity for increased normalization of ties between Israel and Gulf states.
A flight from Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, landed at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport Tuesday night, carrying coronavirus aid facilitated by the United Nations.
This is the first known commercial flight to travel between the two countries.
Etihad Airways flight EY9607 was carrying 16 tons of medical supplies to be delivered to the Palestinian Authority.
An unnamed Israeli official told The Times of Israel that the flight was carrying aid provided by the UAE through the UN’s World Food Program, adding that the flight was coordinated with the Israeli government.
There were no passengers on board, a spokesperson for the airline told Reuters.
The plane flew “a roundabout route” over Iraq and either Jordan or Turkey before landing in Tel Aviv, according to The Times of Israel:
The aircraft appeared to be painted all white and stripped of its company logo and livery.
Jets flying between Israel and Arab states with which Israel has no formal diplomatic relations often stop at a third location, such as Amman’s Queen Alia airport, to whitewash the flight’s record. However, this appears to have been a direct flight.
The UAE and Israel have no formal ties, but secret relations date back decades.
Saudi Arabia has led Gulf states in increasingly open normalization with Israel in recent years.
This normalization has been driven by the mutual animosity towards Iran.
Danny Danon, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, celebrated the occurrence and hoped it would open doors for more normalization between the two countries.
“Hopefully soon, we will see passenger flights, too,” he said on Twitter.
“Having visited, I know the UAE is a fascinating place, and look to continue improving relations between our countries.”
Earlier this month, the UAE ambassador at the United Nations, Lana Zaki Nusseibeh, participated in a webinar organized by major Israel lobby group the American Jewish Committee and the publication Jewish Insider.
During the event, Israeli journalist Barak Ravid asked Nusseibeh if she could confirm reports that the UAE and other Gulf countries have cooperated with Israeli doctors on the pandemic.
“I am not aware directly of any cooperation around the coronavirus,” Nusseibeh said.
“One of the things I would say about our perspective in science and tackling this pandemic is that it shouldn’t know any borders or boundaries.”
Nusseibeh went on to affirm that her country has “had Israeli medics participate in previous events in the UAE – that wouldn’t be unusual – and I’m sure there’s a lot of scope for collaboration.”
The UAE ambassador then congratulated Israeli doctors on claimed advances in research on COVID-19 treatments.
Joint military exercises
A United Arab Emirates cyberespionage company with ties to the government has also been hiring veterans of the Israeli military’s cyberwarfare unit.