el al plane 88.
(photo credit: )
A quarter of a century ago, El Al, at the time Israel's national carrier, opened a regularly scheduled route to Egypt. A gala evening was held in one of Cairo's most prestigious hotels to mark the event. I was there. The Hora Jerusalem Troupe danced its way into the hearts of the audience to such an extent that it swept them all on to the floor, whirling and swaying to old hassidic tunes. This was the time when Israelis and Egyptians alike were united in the hope for a brighter future and for warm and thriving relations between the two countries.
It did not quite work out that way.
Nevertheless the planes bearing the blue-and-white markings of the Jewish state started plying the route to Cairo and soon became a fixture at Cairo international airport. They were filled to capacity with tourists, businessmen, diplomats and just anyone who wanted to see our great neighbor up close.
Going to Cairo took only a few minutes more than flying to Eilat, and it seemed as if everyone wanted to see the pyramids. Soon there were five weekly flights. The planes with the Star of David kept on flying through good and bad times. They kept the corridor of goodwill open after the Sadat assassination and throughout Operation Peace for Galilee - the first Lebanon war.
They kept on flying throughout the first intifada. When the land route through El-Arish and Rafah had to be closed because it was no longer safe, El Al flew on. As the threat of terrorism worsened, sharp-eyed Israeli security personnel at the airport had to be constantly on the alert, and still the planes flew on.
With the onslaught of the second Intifada, relations between the two countries reached a new low. There were calls in Egypt to break diplomatic ties and to stop the flights.
It did not happen. Egypt and Israel were well aware of the importance of peace for the stability of the area. Still, tourism from Israel slowed to a trickle after a number of terrorist attacks in Cairo and in Sinai. The number of flights went from five to four, then to three and two. But the planes kept on flying - and kept on being filled to capacity.
It seems that this is about to end.
Israel no longer has a national carrier, and the new, privately-owned El Al - naturally focused on profitability - has informed the government that it can no longer afford the high cost of keeping the planes secure at Cairo airport. As of the end of November, El Al's planes will no longer fly the Cairo route.
There will, of course, still be the Egyptian carrier. Egyptian security will henceforth check passengers and planes taking off for Israel. Unless, that is, the Egyptian government follows suit and also decides to save money.
The writer is the wife of former ambassador to Egypt Zvi Mazel.