22 Jul 2014

US and European airlines suspend Israel flights

The US has changed its travel advisory recommending any American citizens defer non-essential travel to Israel and the West Bank.  Today, the FAA issued a notice, banning US airlines from flying to Tel Aviv.

That led to questions today at the State Department briefing over suspicion that this is all a political move intended to put pressure on Prime Minister Netanyahu to agree a ceasefire.  No, said Ms Harf, of the State department, who says they had nothing to do with the FAA’s decision making process.

The FAA’s decision came within hours of a Delta flight being diverted from Ben Gurion.  The FAA says a rocket had fallen only a mile from the airport – although a spokesman at Ben Gurion said it was three miles.  In any case, other airlines (United, US Airways) quickly followed, as did Lufthansa, KLM and Air France, with their own suspensions of flights to Ben Gurion.

The FAA ban is for 24 hours – and now the European regulator, the Aviation Safety Authority, has advised European airlines to stay clear as well, until further notice.  Although the last thing we were told was that British Airways is providing service as usual, as is El Al.

Hamas will no doubt call this a victory – causing an impact on the lives of those well removed from the crisis in Gaza, disrupting any notion of business as usual.  But perhaps part of this as well is a sensitivity on the part of airlines, and regulators bruised by the tragic demise of Malaysian flight MH17 over the Ukraine last week.

American airlines – American business – American holidays – now affected by the crisis.  It adds urgency to the Secretary of State’s mission to Egypt, as if anymore were needed.

John Kerry apparently met with his Egyptian counterpart three times today, trying to nurture this ceasefire, in a noodle soup of diplomacy.  The Americans, the Qataris, the Turks, the Palestinians, the Israelis, the Egyptians – all talking peace.  Even Ban Ki Moon has been banging heads, but to no avail.  For now, a ceasefire stubbornly out of reach.

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