Israel extends deadline to halt Dubai flights, warns of potential crisis

Direct El Al, Israir and Arkia connections from Tel Aviv to Dubai were among the fruits of a landmark 2020 deal establishing ties between Israel and the UAE.

Israir plane lands at Dubai International Airport, Dec. 1, 2020 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Israir plane lands at Dubai International Airport, Dec. 1, 2020
(photo credit: Courtesy)

Israel extended on Tuesday a deadline that might have halted its airlines' flights to the United Arab Emirates over an aviation security dispute, but warned of a potential crisis with the Gulf state unless the issue is resolved.

Direct El Al, Israir and Arkia connections from Tel Aviv to Dubai were among the fruits of a landmark 2020 deal establishing ties between Israel and the UAE. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have visited the UAE commercial hub since.

But Israel's Shin Bet security service has voiced concerns - which it did not publicly detail - about arrangements at Dubai International Airport and said the three national carriers would stop operating there if these went unresolved.

The current arrangements had been due to expire on Tuesday. But a senior Israeli official said Transport Minister Merav Michaeli extended the deadline "by about a month" so the negotiations could continue.

Dubai authorities have so far not commented on the issue.

 Labor head Merav Michaeli at faction meetings, December 13, 2021.  (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) Labor head Merav Michaeli at faction meetings, December 13, 2021. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

In tandem with the deadline extension, Israel increased pressure on the UAE to address its security concerns.

Should the Israeli airlines eventually stop flying to Dubai, the senior Israeli official said, that would spell a de facto end to their UAE operations and prompt a reciprocal ban.

"If El Al can't fly to the Emirates, then Emirati companies can't land here," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Emirati state carrier flydubai operates direct Dubai-Tel Aviv flights and Dubai's Emirates has been looking to launch flights to Israel. Etihad Airways and Wizz Air fly from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv.

"The crisis could be regional, not just bilateral," the Israeli official said, citing UAE's cornerstone role in the Abraham Accords, a US-sponsored drive to warm relations between Israel and a range of Arab countries. "It could have a huge impact."

The UAE foreign ministry did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

Israel rarely publishes its aviation security measures.

Possible measures, however, could include earmarking special areas of airports, or even separate terminals, for their passengers, parking their planes under Israeli guards, and the presence of armed sky marshals aboard the flights.

The Shin Bet has suggested that UAE capital Abu Dhabi could serve as an alternative for the Israeli carriers, should they no longer be able to fly to Dubai. But the senior Israeli official ruled this out, saying Abu Dhabi attracted far less traffic.

"Abu Dhabi may be an option security-wise, but it is not an economic option," the official said.