Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday attended a welcoming ceremony for the first flydubai commercial flight between Dubai and Tel Aviv at Ben-Gurion International Airport in Israel. Pool photo by Emil Salman/UPI | License Photo
Nov. 26 (UPI) -- The first direct flight between Dubai and Tel Aviv landed Thursday, met by a delegation led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following the normalization of diplomatic ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
Budget airline flydubai, owned by the UAE government, was the first airline to begin commercial passenger service between the two countries, which hope to benefit from tourism to help boost the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"This is a pivotal moment because we're changing history," Netanyahu said in remarks at Tel Aviv Ben Gurion International Airport. "We're flying at breakneck speed into a new era that is now, clearly, changing the Middle East," he added.
"Welcome and Shalom to the first ever Emirati tourists to Israel who have just landed at Ben-Gurion international airport," tweeted Netanyahu's spokesman Ofir Gendelman.
The four-hour round-trip flight between the two countries costs about $440 on flydubai. Two flights will take place daily.
"Today's inaugural flight sees the air transport agreement realized," flydubai CEO Ghaith al-Ghaith said in a statement. "The creation of these direct air links will support the development of commercial ventures across a number of sectors helping to drive success and prosperity. We look forward to welcoming the first passengers from Israel as they come to explore the UAE."
Israeli airlines El Al and Israir will launch commercial services between the cities next month, and Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways expects to start commercial flights between the two countries in the spring.
Israel has normalized relations with its Arab neighbors United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan in moves brokered by the U.S. Trump administration.
The countries are strengthening relations to become allies against their mutual threat of Iran, said Suzanne Maloney, the Brookings Institution's Foreign policy vice president.
"Quiet ties developed over years of pragmatic cooperation between Israeli and Emirati officials around the threats posed by Tehran helped to overcome one of the most stubborn diplomatic schisms," Maloney said in August.
Netanyahu made a secret trip on Sunday to meet with the Saudi Arabia's Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the first time, as well as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Pompeo, who visited Saudi Arabia at the end of his seven-nation tour, has encouraged Saudi officials to normalize relations with Israel.