In a further sign of the normalisation of Israeli-United Arab Emirates relations, Etihad Airways flights have become available for sale to customers in Israel.
Etihad Airways will open its services to Israeli passengers through travel and tourism specialist TAL Aviation Group, which is based in Tel Aviv.
TAL has confirmed that Etihad sales will be offered from 1 September, two weeks after the Israeli and UAE governments unveiled their diplomatic agreement, and just a day after El Al operated a preliminary flight on the Tel Aviv-Abu Dhabi sector.
The two sides have yet to reach a formal bilateral deal governing flights between the two countries.
But TAL says the co-operation with Etihad follows an “increase in demand” for Israeli-UAE travel, as the air transport market begins a slow recovery from the pandemic crisis.
While Etihad has been gradually restoring services from its Abu Dhabi base, El Al’s passenger flights remain grounded until at least 30 September as the Israeli carrier works on a corporate rescue plan.
TAL chief commercial officer Nissim Sagis says the company is “excited at the opportunity” to work with Etihad as a new partner.
While the formal normalisation of relations is a landmark event, the two countries had been gradually establishing closer ties.
Israel’s foreign ministry confirmed last year that the state had been invited to attend the high-profile Expo 2020 exhibition in Dubai, with its own pavilion – although the event has been postponed to October 2021 owing to the crisis.
Etihad aircraft flew to Tel Aviv earlier this year as part of a humanitarian operation to provide pandemic-related supplies to Palestinians.
The El Al flight to Abu Dhabi aimed to underpin the new relationship between the two sides, and it was given permission to operate through Saudi Arabian airspace – crucial access which will be sought by both Israeli and UAE carriers in order to establish future non-stop services.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to the airspace situation after El Al’s one-off flight on 31 August.
“Every day Israeli citizens fly through Saudi airspace – still not in Israeli aircraft, until today,” he said. “This has changed.”
He pointed out that Saudi Arabian authorities had already started allowing Israel-bound Air India services to transit Saudi airspace, and that the Israeli government, over the past two years, has had political contacts with a number of Arab countries including Oman and Sudan.
“Our delegation is currently holding discussions with its [UAE] counterparts on opening direct air routes, on visitors’ visas for Israelis, on trade and innovation, on opening representations, on co-operation on the issue of the coronavirus and on many other subjects,” he says.
“This will be a warm peace because it is based on economic co-operation with an entrepreneurial economy similar to ours, with very great economic abilities and considerable funds that is also looking for investment horizons.
“For the first time, the state of Israel, which has received investments from all over the world, is going to receive investments from the Middle East, from within the Middle East – this is a great change.”