Israel celebrates second airline flight from Emirates

For the second time in a month, a commercial airline operated a flight from the United Arab Emirates to Israel supposedly carrying coronavirus aid for Palestinians.

The flight from Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, landed at Ben Gurion airport Tuesday night.

Etihad Airways flight 9607 flew over Iraq and Turkey en route to Tel Aviv, according to tracking websites.

This is the second known commercial flight to travel directly between the two countries.

Iraq officially prohibits the overflight of any aircraft traveling to or from Israel, so it is unclear whether Iraqi authorities were aware of the true destination of the flight or whether efforts were made to disguise that it was bound for Tel Aviv.

The flight was operated using an Etihad Boeing 787 aircraft with registration A6-BNA.

The path followed by the flight, as recorded by the tracking service FlightRadar24, confirms that the aircraft passed through Iraqi airspace before continuing into Turkey.

At 15:35 UTC, for instance, FlightRadar24 indicates that the aircraft passed just east of Baghdad at 40,000 feet.

The first such flight landed in Tel Aviv on 19 May carrying 16 tons of coronavirus aid facilitated by the United Nations and the World Health Organization.

That aircraft was painted all white, unlike Tuesday’s plane, which bore the Etihad Airways livery and United Arab Emirates flag:

This was celebrated by Israel lobby group StandWithUs. “For the first time in Israel’s history, a plane featuring official UAE state symbols landed in Tel Aviv on Tuesday night,” the group tweeted.

Avi Mayer, communications director of major Israel lobby group the American Jewish Committee, also celebrated:

Mayer, an apologist for Israel’s extreme anti-Arab far right, is a proponent of Arab normalization of ties with Israel under the cover of promoting religious and cultural tolerance.

Israel’s foreign ministry said “the aid will be transferred to Gaza and the (Palestinian Authority) by the UN and COGAT,” the bureaucratic arm of Israel’s military occupation.

No coordination with the PA

“If any country, whether Arab or European or international country wants to help us, we welcome that. We don’t say no – as long as it is not conditional and as long as it is fully coordinated with us,” Mohammad Shtayyeh, the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister, told reporters of Tuesday’s flight.

However, the Palestinian Authority said it was not informed of either flight, and rejected last month’s aid because the UAE did not coordinate with it.

An unnamed PA source told the Palestinian publication Wattan that the UAE only coordinated with Israel and the World Health Organization before sending aid.

This, the source said, pointed to an intention to normalize ties with Israel using aid to the Palestinians as a pretext.

The source insisted that the PA refuses to be used as a bridge for normalization.

The PA has always been a bridge for normalization with Israel, however.

While it has been making threats to cut all security coordination with Israel and even declare an independent state over Israel’s planned annexation of large swathes of the occupied West Bank next month, it remains to be seen if the PA will deliver.

Security coordination between the PA and Israel is operating as usual, both Israeli and Palestinian sources are telling media.

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. There is no indication Tuesday’s flight made such a stop.

The UAE and Israel have no formal ties, but secret relations date back decades.

Police chief calling for normalization

Meanwhile, the deputy chief of the Dubai police department called for an invasion of Qatar and a truce between certain Gulf countries and Israel in a series of tweets last week.

“An invasion of Qatar and the arrest of the young boy [emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani], an end to many problems. Hand over rule to the deserving party in Qatar. A reconciliation with Israel, and everything ends,” Dhahi Khalfan Tamim said on Twitter.

He also asserted that “Israel should be in political, defense, commercial, industrial and economic cooperation with Arabs.”

Tamim appeared to be making the case for normalization with Israel as a step to counter Qatar.

“Those who seek to undermine Qatar and end its role must reconcile with Israel,” he tweeted, implying that Qatar’s relationship with Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood officials would no longer be useful to Israel.

“I announce my support for full and lasting peace with Israel. If peace is achieved with Israel and after it reconciliation with Qatar, I will go to Israel and I would not visit Qatar even if the Kaaba were in it,” he wrote, referring to the cubic building at the center of the Great Mosque in Mecca.

Since June 2017, Qatar has faced isolation and blockade from regional rivals Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt.

The Trump administration initially expressed strong support for that blockade, labeling Qatar a sponsor of “terrorism,” but is now pushing Saudi Arabia and the UAE to allow Qatar Airways to use their airspace.

Tamim previously asserted that the blockade will not be lifted unless Qatar gives up hosting rights of the 2022 World Cup.

Qatari officials have previously indicated they would welcome the Israeli national soccer team and fans if Israel qualifies for the tournament.

Tamim’s recent declarations appear to contradict his 18 May tweet saying that “Peace for Israeli leaders means the destruction of the Arabs.”

Tamim rose to prominence due to his role in the investigation of the 2010 killing of Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a hotel room in Dubai.

His slaying was blamed on Israel’s foreign intelligence agency Mossad.

It was Tamim who revealed the identities of the 40 Mossad agents involved in al-Mabhouh’s killing.

Ali Abunimah contributed research.

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Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.