When 'secret flights' aren't very secret – analysis

Netanyahu's flight to Saudi Arabia was easily trackable; so were two B-52 bombers which crossed Israel. Were they sending a message?

US B-52 bomber (photo credit: REUTERS/Darren Staples)
US B-52 bomber
(photo credit: REUTERS/Darren Staples)
It was a flight that could have remained under the radar, with its transponder turned off, but the flight taken by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was public. And for a reason.
Netanyahu flew to Saudi Arabia on Sunday evening along with his military secretary Brig.-Gen. Avi Blut and the head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen.
No one knew of the flight, including Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Gaby Ashkenazi and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, until Haaretz editor Avi Scharf, who tracks flights, noticed an “ABSOLUTELY rare Israeli flight direct to the new Saudi mega-city” that was taking place by Netanyahu’s “ex-fav bizjet.”
The flight to the Saudi city of Neom by the T7-CPX Gulfstream took off from Israel around 7:30 p.m. and landed back in Tel Aviv around 12:30 a.m.
The “secret” flight from Israel to the kingdom had its transponder on the entire time.
If Netanyahu wanted to keep it a secret, he could have easily done so. He’s done it before, and so have other senior Israeli officials. For years flights in business jets have taken off from Ben-Gurion Airport and flown south toward the Gulf States, and according to some reports, even Saudi Arabia.
The Israeli Air Force has even, according to foreign reports, flown similar flights with senior military officers on board.
But they were all done quietly.
In recent years, flight tracker software and those who enjoy tracking flights have been shared on social media sites like Twitter, “outing” flights that in the past would have remained undisclosed.
Military flights have also been shared, such as the flight of the two American B-52H Stratofortresses that flew through Israeli airspace on Saturday during a “short-notice, long-range mission” from the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base to the Middle East.
According to a press release by US Central Command, the mission was “to deter aggression and reassure US partners and allies.”
The two bombers were tracked online as they flew across the Atlantic and until they entered Israeli airspace. But once they overflew Jordan, their tracking was lost. Now, according to The Aviationist website, such flights can be tracked online and have been tracked quite often, but “the fact that the WARBIRD 1 and 2 flights were visible on the most popular flight tracking websites seems to prove the mission was a clear show of force against Iran.”
The same can be said for Netanyahu’s “secret” flight to the Sunni Kingdom. Such flights by private business jets from Ben-Gurion Airport to other countries where Israel has less than friendly relations or no relations at all have been tracked online for several years.
But nothing was leaked to the public about what actually took place once the plane touched down – it was left to one’s imagination.
It was later leaked and confirmed by sources in both Israel and Saudi Arabia that the prime minister flew to Saudi Arabia and met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The Wall Street Journal later reported that a senior Saudi adviser said that the three discussed normalization and Iran but that no agreements had been reached.
It wasn’t a “secret” flight, it was a flight that had a purpose: to send a message to his coalition partners while at the same time to Iran, that “Mr. Security” wasn’t done with securing normalization deals with Arab countries before US President Donald Trump leaves office.
The fact that those who enjoy tracking flights were the first to leak it also shows that classified flights, both by politicians and the military, may be a thing of the past.