On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reported that the state is in the early stages of preparing for direct flights between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. The flights would pass directly over Saudi Arabia, which currently does not recognize Israel and thus does not allow Israeli aircraft in its airspaces.
In an interview with reporters, Netanyahu explained that flights would stretch from Tel Aviv to Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Flights would pass through Saudi Arabia, making them “…about 3 hours long, just like [flights] to Rome.” While visiting Ben Gurion airport, the Prime Minister reportedly said that he saw “tremendous scope for bilateral tourism and gigantic scope for investment” with the United Arab Emirates. High level Israeli officials are to travel to the UAE within the week to discuss the logistics of such an undertaking, but it is possible that this timeline may be affected by the complications that the restrictions and preventative measures involved with the coronavirus introduce. There is currently no official timeline on when such flights may be made available to the public, likely for similar reasons.
This bold step in diplomacy could be an important first step in facilitating more peaceful and transparent relations between Israel and neighboring Arab states. Though the availability of international flights out of Tel Aviv and into the United Arab Emirates may seem relatively trivial, it marks the beginning of an opportunity for stronger diplomatic relationships between two states that have previously had very little formal interaction. Normalizing relations between two very different states at a relatively local level could also very well be the first step at productive and long-lasting change, as it forces citizens to see diplomacy from a more personalized perspective. The opportunity for a UAE or Israeli citizen to fly to a new country that they may have had little interaction with prior invites a very personal experience with globalization. Direct flights such as this one invite a streamlined exchange of ideas, culture, and experiences at the personal level. These exchanges may act as a beginning step towards a mutual understanding that may be directed towards working towards change in normalcies between the two states.
On Sunday August 16th, the United Arab Emirates opened telephone lines to Israel, a diplomatic link that reportedly arose after from a conversation between officials from both countries. Diplomatic relationships between Israel and Arab states throughout the Middle East are virtually non-existent due to a long and complicated history. Should a formal diplomatic relationship be formed between the UAE and Israel, it would mark the first link between Israel and an Arab state in over 70 years.
While Netanyahu’s desire to form a relationship with the UAE is likely fueled by a desire for economic opportunity, it is possible that the creation of direct flights may indicate an opportunity for official peace-making. Civility, diplomacy, and foreign officials’ willingness to form streamlined travel between the countries may also represent a willingness to normalize a formal diplomatic relationship at both the local and global level. Though it is unclear when such flights will be made available to the general public, it is clear that a willingness to do so may represent something much larger than a means of transportation.
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