First commercial flight from Israel to UAE takes off, flies over Saudi Arabia

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On board a packed airliner taking US and Israeli delegates to the United Arab Emirates on Monday, passengers were welcomed in Arabic as well as English and Hebrew, a gesture marking the historic first Israeli direct flight from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi.

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The El Al Boeing 737 made aviation history by cutting straight over Saudi territory en route to the UAE capital, where Israeli and Emirati officials will hold U.S.-brokered normalisation talks on Monday.

“Wishing us all salaam, peace and shalom, have a safe flight,” the pilot, Captain Tal Becker, said on the intercom, in Arabic, English and Hebrew, using all three languages to also announce the flight number and destination.

Passengers received swag bags filled with coronavirus protection gear -- disinfectant gel and wipes -- and some donned face masks emblazoned with the Israeli and Emirati flags.

Delegates, who included President Donald Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner and US national security adviser Robert O'Brien and his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat, sat cheek by jowl with agents from the US Secret Service and Israel's Shin Bet domestic security agency.

A spokesman for El Al said the plane was equipped with a C-Music anti-missile system on its rear carriage -- standard for the 737s in the carrier's fleet.

A request by Reuters journalists to film inside the cockpit went up several chains of command before being approved.

“With two countries' NSAs (national security agencies) on board, you understand the sensitivity,” an American delegate said.

There was also a bit of security flair to coronavirus checks mandated for journalists the weekend before the trip.

Upon arrival for COVID-19 testing, travelling reporters were told to give a code-phrase – “I'm here for the ‘experiment’” -- to be fast-tracked through by a representative of the Israeli prime minister's office.


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