An Israeli plane adorned with the Star of David and bearing the word “peace” in Hebrew, Arabic, and English landed in the United Arab Emirates on Monday. The touchdown of the first-ever commercial passenger flight between the two countries officially kicked off a U.S.-brokered deal to improve their relations. The United States hopes the agreement will pave the way for more Arab nations to establish friendly ties with Israel.
In the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi, state television interrupted its regular broadcast to show the arrival of high-level delegates on the plane, including President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, U.S. national security adviser Robert O’Brien, and Israeli national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat. Kushner called the moment a historic breakthrough and said he hoped it would be the first of many: “There is great urgency between the people of both countries to break down old barriers, to get to know each other, to form new and hopefully very deep friendships.”
After Emirati authorities agreed earlier this month to pursue better relations, Israel suspended its planned annexation of Palestinian territory in the West Bank. On Saturday, the UAE officially scrapped its economic boycott against Israel, opening up increased cooperation in agriculture, medicine, technology, and tourism.
The agreement marks a major milestone in President Trump’s push to limit Iran’s influence in the Middle East. Last week, the United States moved to trigger a provision in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that snaps UN sanctions against Iran back into place despite the U.S. withdrawal from the agreement in 2018. Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the UAE’s move an act of treachery against the Islamic world, according to Iranian state media, adding, “The treason will not last for long.”
Among Arab states, only Egypt and Jordan have full relations with Israel. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo encouraged other countries to follow the UAE’s lead during a recent trip to the region, with limited success.
Pompeo arrived in Khartoum, Sudan, last week on the first direct flight there from Israel. Faisal Saleh, Sudan’s information minister, said the country’s transitional leadership lacks the authority to establish relations with Israel.
Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa told Pompeo last week he supports the Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative, which seeks an independent Palestinian state within historic borders in exchange for normalized diplomacy with Israel.
Saudi Arabia has refused to back a deal until Israel signs a peace accord with the Palestinians. But the flight to the UAE crossed over the Saudi capital, Riyadh, becoming the first Israeli commercial plane to enter Saudi airspace. The Saudi government on Wednesday granted permission for planes “from all countries” to cross over the country en route to the UAE.
Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told The World and Everything In It’s Mary Reichard that the Trump administration could push to cut similar deals before the U.S. presidential election in November.
“Let’s also stop trying to look at this solely through the lens of the American political calendar to recognize that other states have other interests, and no state should be fearful of what the United States’ reaction should be should they decide to make peace with [Israel],” he said.