News / Middle East

Israel Scrambles to Restore Foreign Flights to Tel Aviv

Israelis wait to board at Ben Gurion International Airport a day after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration imposed a 24-hour restriction on flights after a Hamas rocket landed within a mile of the airport, in Tel Aviv, July 23, 2014.
Israelis wait to board at Ben Gurion International Airport a day after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration imposed a 24-hour restriction on flights after a Hamas rocket landed within a mile of the airport, in Tel Aviv, July 23, 2014.
Reuters

Israel tried on Wednesday to get U.S. and European commercial flights to Tel Aviv restored after some carriers suspended services, insisting its main airport there was safe despite being targeted by Palestinian rockets.

Israeli authorities emphasized the success of the Iron Dome interceptor system in protecting Ben Gurion Airport from rockets fired by militants in the Gaza Strip, as well as a precautionary narrowing of air corridors since fighting erupted on July 8.

However, Israel also said foreign airlines could use an alternative airport deep in its southern desert.

About 30 foreign airlines have suspended flights to Ben Gurion. Three of them were American, acting in accordance with a Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) ban issued on Tuesday, which was extended by 24 hours on Wednesday. Turkish Airlines also extended suspension of its  flights for another 24 hours.

The FAA said it was responding to a Palestinian rocket that struck a building two km (one mile) from the airport. Israel said the damage was from debris left by that its Iron Dome system had shot down.

“Our airport is safe. Our airport is secure. And we hope the American carriers will be flying to Israel soon,” Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said in an interview on MSNBC.

However, most European airlines have followed suit, sharply reducing traffic through Ben Gurion, a mid-sized airport that normally bustles during the summer.

Israeli officials described the FAA notice as too hasty and affected by international jitters over the shooting down last week of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine.

Giora Romm, director-general of Israel's Civil Aviation Authority, said he spoke with FAA counterparts and gave the agency a host of information on the safety of the airport.

Romm dismissed comparisons between the relatively unsophisticated rockets made by Gazan militants and the Russian-built radar-guided missile which the West believes brought down the Malaysia Airlines flight with the loss of 298 lives.

“I am a little upset by the hysteria from that rocket [from Gaza],” he told Reuters. “One of the most unbelievable arguments is that there is connection with rockets and the ground-to-air missile that shot down the Malaysian aircraft in Ukraine.”

The United States is still assessing the capabilities of the Hamas rockets, the U.S. State Department said in a statement. The statement says Hamas does have rockets that can reach Ben Gurion, although their accuracy is limited. Whether Hamas has heat-seeking missiles has not been determined, the statement said.

Three civilians have died in Israel in the rocket attacks out of Gaza, including a foreign laborer hit on Wednesday. Some 687 Palestinians, mainly civilians, have been killed in Gaza since Israel launched its offensive to halt the missile salvoes by Hamas and its allies. Thirty-two Israeli troops have also been killed.

Netanyahu on Tuesday asked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is in the region trying to broker a Gaza truce, to help restore U.S. commercial flights to Tel Aviv. But a U.S. official said the Obama administration could not overrule an aviation security precaution.

A departure flight board displays various cancelled and delayed flights at Ben Gurion International Airport a day after the U.S. FAA imposed a 24-hour restriction on flights, in Tel Aviv, July 23, 2014.A departure flight board displays various cancelled and delayed flights at Ben Gurion International Airport a day after the U.S. FAA imposed a 24-hour restriction on flights, in Tel Aviv, July 23, 2014.
x
A departure flight board displays various cancelled and delayed flights at Ben Gurion International Airport a day after the U.S. FAA imposed a 24-hour restriction on flights, in Tel Aviv, July 23, 2014.
A departure flight board displays various cancelled and delayed flights at Ben Gurion International Airport a day after the U.S. FAA imposed a 24-hour restriction on flights, in Tel Aviv, July 23, 2014.

Israeli airlines continued flying and the Tourism Ministry said on Wednesday that 22 foreign carriers were still landing at Ben Gurion, among them British Airways, Iberia and Aeroflot. Some 209 flights were to operate at Ben Gurion on Wednesday, with 132,000 arrivals and departures, the ministry said.

Among the European airlines that have suspended flights are Germany's Lufthansa and its subsidiaries, including  Austrian Airlines and the airline Swiss.

The Gaza war is set to wipe at least half a billion dollars off the Israeli economy this year, industry bodies estimate.

El Al Picks Up Slack

Flag carrier El Al has picked up some of the slack and used a larger jet than normal on its morning flight from Zurich to accommodate Swiss passengers. Swiss code shares with El Al.

El Al also is seeking approval to fly planes to Turkey to bring home an estimated 4,000 Israelis stranded there.

Israeli Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz called the FAA decision “out of place” and a “reward to terrorism”.

However, he said Ovda Airport, used mostly by military aircraft and situated near the southern resort of Eilat, was ready as an alternative to Ben Gurion. Lying deep in the Negev desert, 152 km (98 miles) from Gaza, Ovda is beyond the proven range of Palestinian rockets.

Officials from European carriers said Ovda was too small and remote from Tel Aviv and nearby Jerusalem.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the FAA was in close touch with Israel and monitoring the situation. She also noted that Kerry arrived in Israel on Wednesday on a military plane that was not bound by the FAA order.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg flew to Israel on Tuesday night on El Al in a show of solidarity.

“Ben Gurion is the best-protected airport in the world, and El Al flights have been regularly flying in and out of it safely,” he said on his webpage. “The flight restrictions are a mistake that hands Hamas an undeserved victory and should be lifted immediately.”

Small cruise ships have also stopped calling at Israel's Ashdod port at the request of port officials.

“Hamas will no doubt claim a major propaganda victory,” said Ben Vogel, editor of IHS Jane's Airport Review, noting Hamas had failed to deliver on a July 9 threat to hit Ben Gurion.  “But the international aviation community appears to be in no mood to take risks near conflict zones, especially in the context of the surface-to-air missile shootdown of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 over Ukraine on July 17.”  

You May Like

Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Seen as a potential driver of recovery, Cairo’s plan to expand waterway had been raising hopes to give country much needed economic boost More

Ebola Maternity Ward in Sierra Leone First of its Kind

Country already had one of world's highest maternal mortality rates before Ebola arrived, virus has added even more complications to health care More

Malaysia Flight 370 Disappearance Ruled Accident

Aircraft disappeared on March 8, 2014; with ruling, families of 239 passengers and crew can now seek compensation from airline More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid