DUBAI: A flydubai aircraft landed in Dubai from Tel Aviv on Thursday, the first scheduled commercial flight between the two cities following the normalization of ties between the UAE and Israel.
“Welcome to Dubai,” an immigration officer said as the passengers from Israel filed off the plane and into the glitzy Gulf city, some of them waving and giving the peace sign.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was on hand in Tel Aviv earlier when the flight arrived after the four-hour journey from Dubai, called it “a moment of history.”
“As-salaam alaikum (Peace be upon you),” he said to arriving passengers. “Come again and again and again.”
The United Arab Emirates in September signed a landmark US-brokered deal to formalize relations with Israel, the first such agreement by an Arab state in the Gulf.
Commenting on the accord in a tweet on Thursday, UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan said it would foster “prosperity and progress” in the Middle East.
With their economies hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, the UAE and Israel are hoping for rapid dividends from the normalization deal, including an influx of tourists as Dubai enters its winter high season.
“The start of scheduled flights will contribute to economic development and create further opportunities for investment,” flydubai chief executive Ghaith Al-Ghaith said when the service was announced earlier this month.
The Dubai carrier will fly the route twice daily, and Israeli airlines El Al and Israir are both expected to launch their commercial services between the cities next month.
Etihad Airways, based in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, has said it will begin flying to Tel Aviv in March 2021.
The UAE became only the third Arab country to normalize ties with Israel, following Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.
The two countries have already signed treaties on visa-free travel — although that is yet to come into force — along with accords on investment protection, science and technology.
Since the historic agreement, Bahrain has also forged ties with Israel, while Sudan has agreed to do so in principle.