JERUSALEM, Israel – For the first time in its history, a plane from the United Arab Emirates made a direct flight from Abu Dhabi to Israel on Tuesday, signaling warming relations between the Jewish State and its neighbor in the Persian Gulf.
The unmarked Etihad Airways plane touched down on a Tel Aviv runway just after 9 p.m. carrying 16 tons of coronavirus aid for Palestinians.
The UAE’s state-run WAM news agency later issued a statement saying the protective gear, medical equipment, and ventilators were sent “to curb the spread of (the) COVID-19 pandemic and its impact in the occupied Palestinian territory.” It did not comment on the flight’s significance.
— Amichai Stein (@AmichaiStein1) May 19, 2020
The direct flight was a rare public moment of cooperation between Israel and the UAE, which has no official diplomatic ties with Israel. For years, rumors have swarmed that the two nations are having back-channel discussions, especially over their common enemy – Iran.
Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, wrote on Twitter that he hopes passenger flights will follow soon.
“Having visited, I know the UAE is a fascinating place, and look to continue improving relations between our countries,” he said.
The aid delivery will go towards UN efforts to fight the outbreak, and since the Gaza Strip and the West Bank do not have their own airports, the cargo must go through Israel.
“This is an international crisis that requires an international response. The UAE is grateful to UNSCO for facilitating the UAE’s support for the Palestinian people, and for the UN’s tireless efforts to coordinate and assist the global fight against the pandemic,” Lana Zaki Nusseibeh, the Emirati envoy to the UN, said in a statement.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday accused the UAE of committing “treachery” and “betrayal.”
“Today, some Persian Gulf states have committed the biggest treachery against their own history and the history of the Arab world,” Khamenei tweeted. “They have betrayed #Palestine by supporting Israel. Will the nations of these states tolerate their leaders’ betrayal?”
The UAE does not have a long history with Israel. Established in 1971, the UAE is a federation of seven Sheikdoms. While it does not have official diplomatic ties with Israel, Israeli officials have been allowed to visit. Emirati officials also allowed the Israeli national anthem to be played after Israeli won gold in an Abu Dhabi judo tournament. Israel has a small mission representing the Jewish State’s interests at the International Renewable Energy Agency in Abu Dhabi.
Next year, Israel will participate in the delayed Expo 2020 fair being hosted in Dubai. Practicing Jews in Dubai pray at a secret synagogue there, and the UAE announced plans to build the Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi. This project will house a mosque, a church and a synagogue.
Israelis with western passports regularly enter the UAE without incident.
However, the UAE does publicly criticize Israeli policy and in May condemned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to annex Jewish communities in the West Bank, warning of “dangerous repercussions.”