Originally, this started as voluntary actions by Delta and US Air to suspend their operations at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. A Hamas missile landed within a mile of Israel’s main airport — one I’ve traveled through three times — emphasizing the expansion of range in Hamas’ artillery from Gaza. At first, the FAA stayed silent on the change:
White House says FAA has not issued any notices regarding flights over Mideast airspace, individual carriers make own decisions.
— Reuters U.S. News (@ReutersUS) July 22, 2014
It didn’t take long for the situation to change, though:
The Federal Aviation Administration is telling U.S. airlines they are prohibited from flying to the Tel Aviv airport in Israel after a Hamas rocket exploded nearby.
The FAA said in a statement that the ban on flights is for 24 hours beginning at 12:15 p.m. EST on Tuesday.
The notice to airmen was issued “in response to a rocket strike which landed approximately one mile from Ben Gurion International Airport,” the FAA said in a statement.
It’s not just the Americans, either:
BERLIN (AP) – European airlines Air France, Lufthansa suspend all flights to Tel Aviv over safety concerns.
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) July 22, 2014
Israel’s Transportation Ministry called on the FAA and other carriers to change their minds:
Israel’s Transportation Ministry called on the airlines to reverse their decision and said it was trying to explain that the airport was “safe for landings and departures.”
“Ben-Gurion Airport is safe and completely guarded and there is no reason whatsoever that American companies would stop their flights and hand terror a prize,” it said in a statement.
The FAA had warned American carriers not to fly over eastern Ukraine several weeks ago, a warning whose wisdom was made all too apparent last week. This isn’t the same issue, though. If Hamas had surface-to-air missiles that could hit airplanes in flight, they’d already have targeted El Al flights coming in and out of Tel Aviv. The ban in this case is more about the unfortunate circumstance of operating in a war zone when one side launches attacks indiscriminately targeting civilians, as opposed to the IDF, which is trying to target Hamas while it hides among civilians.
The time frame of 24 hours is rather interesting, too. Perhaps the FAA expects the war to be over by that time, in which case they’re among the most optimistic of all observers. The Israelis will want to make some adjustments or expansion to their Iron Dome defense system in and around Tel Aviv to restore confidence in flight security, and surely the FAA is in communication with Israel about those improvements and the time frame in which they can judge their effect.
That’s just the FAA, though. Even if they give the green light for a resumption of flights for US carriers, that doesn’t mean that the carriers themselves will jump immediately back into business at Ben Gurion.
One other interesting development took place in Egypt, where John Kerry met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and President al-Sisi to push a cease-fire agreement. According to CBS News (same link as above), Ban then went to Israel, but apparently Kerry did not:
Egypt, Israel and the U.S. back an unconditional cease-fire, to be followed by talks on a possible new border arrangement for Gaza. Israel and Egypt have severely restricted movement in and out of Gaza since Hamas seized the territory in 2007.
In Cairo, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met Egyptian officials Tuesday in the highest-level push yet to end the deadly conflict. Ban then traveled to Israel.
Earlier, former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren told an interviewer on Israeli television that the Netanyahu government had “not invited” Kerry to engage on a cease fire. For the moment, at least, he’s not looking to raise his profile in Jerusalem.