JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel and the United Arab Emirates will sign a commercial aviation deal imminently, an Israeli official said on Tuesday, as the countries cemented newly normalised relations ahead of reciprocal delegation visits expected next week.
Direct air traffic between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi or Dubai would be a tourism and business boon for Israel and the Gulf power, while also easing Israelis’ travel to Asia.
Saudi Arabia has agreed to expedite such flights by letting them pass over its territory. But Riyadh has indicated it is not ready to establish formal ties with Israel, as the UAE and Bahrain did at a Sept. 15 ceremony in Washington.
Ofer Malka, director-general of Israel’s Transportation Ministry, said in an interview the UAE aviation deal is “more or less ready, and we will sign it in the coming days”.
Israel has also agreed to UAE commercial flights over its soil to westward destinations and back, Malka told Army Radio.
An Israeli delegation accompanied by senior U.S. officials is due to fly out to Manama and Abu Dhabi on Oct. 18-19, returning to Tel Aviv on Oct. 20 with UAE delegates aboard making a first official visit to Israel, a source told Reuters. [nL8N2H31VK]
El Al Israel Airlines would likely be used for the initial legs of the trip and Etihad Airways for the last, marking the first direct flight to Israel by a UAE airliner, said the source, who requested anonymity as the planning was not final.
Israeli and UAE officials have yet to confirm those trips.
Malka said security at UAE airports was being worked on to enable Israelis to travel through them. He did not elaborate.
Israel generally requires that its carriers be provided with extra security abroad. In some instances, measures have included separate terminals and Israeli guards at foreign airports.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Bernadette Baum)