Historic commercial flight from Israel to the UAE lands in Abu Dhabi

Israeli flag carrier El Al's airliner carrying Israeli and US delegations to Abu Dhabi for talks. Credit: AP

The first-ever direct commercial passenger flight between Israel and United Arab Emirates landed in Abu Dhabi on Monday with high-ranking American and Israeli delegations onboard.

The historic flight follows a peace deal by the two countries and is big step in normalising relations between them.

The El Al airliner made the three-hour trip across Saudi Arabian airspace, which Israeli flights are usually banned from flying over.

The US-brokered deal solidifies the clandestine ties between them that have evolved over years of shared enmity towards Iran.

Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat, left, Jared Kushner, centre, and US National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien. Credit: AP

The UAE is the third Arab nation to have full relations with Israel, after Egypt and Jordan.

But unlike those two nations, Israel has never fought a war against the UAE and hopes to have much-warmer relations.

The American delegation included President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, as well as national security adviser Robert O’Brien, Mideast envoy Avi Berkowitz and envoy for Iran Brian Hook.

Israel was represented by national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and the director generals of several ministries.

“While this is a historic flight, we hope that this will start an even more historic journey for the Middle East and beyond,” Mr Kushner told reporters before boarding the plane.

Jared Kushner and other dignitaries prepare to board the flight Credit: Menahem Kahana/via AP

Mr Ben-Shabbat, Israel’s national security adviser and head of the Israeli delegation, said he was excited about the trip and that the aim was to lay the groundwork for cooperation in areas like tourism, medicine, technology and trade.

“This morning the traditional greeting of ‘go in peace’ takes on a special significance for us,” he said.

The El Al flight, numbered LY971 as a gesture to the UAE’s international calling code number, flew into Saudi Arabian airspace shortly after takeoff and later passed over the capital, Riyadh.

Saudi King Salman, along with other Gulf Arab leaders to varying degrees, maintain their boycotts of Israel in support of Palestinians obtaining an independent state.

Any long-term flights between Israel and the UAE would require Saudi clearance to be profitable. Otherwise the three hour and 20 minute flight would take more than seven hours.

El Al spokesman Stanley Morais said the 737-900 is equipped with a missile-defence system, a standard feature on these types of planes and a requirement for this flight.

After grounding its fleet due to the coronavirus, it is the airline’s first flight since July 1.

The plane was decorated with the the words for peace in Arabic, Hebrew and English above the pilot’s window. Journalists were handed special face masks decorated with the Israeli and Emirati flags.

The seat protectors said “Making History” in all three languages, and Israeli folk music played in the background.