Israel has extended a security arrangement with Dubai, keeping Israeli airlines’ flights to the United Arab Emirates running while an aviation security dispute is negotiated.
It warned of a potential crisis with the Gulf state unless the issue is resolved.
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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 carriers would stop operating there if these went unresolved.
“Over the past few months, security disputes have emerged between the competent bodies in Dubai and the Israeli aviation security system, in a way that does not allow for the responsible enactment of security for Israeli aviation,” a Shin Bet statement carried by Israeli media on Monday said.
The current arrangements were 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.
Direct Tel Aviv-Dubai flights by El Al, Israir and Arkia airlines started up following a 2020 deal that normalised ties between the two states, allowing hundreds of thousands of Israelis to visit Dubai since.
Dubai authorities have so far not commented on the issue.
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, as reported by Reuters news agency.
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 so-called Abraham Accords, the US-sponsored drive for normalisation between Israel and a number of Arab countries. “It could have a huge impact.”
At the time of signing the accord, an Israeli transport ministry official said the two countries would sign an agreement authorising 28 weekly commercial flights between the UAE and Israel.
Israel rarely publishes its aviation security measures.
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.
El Al operated the first Israeli flight to cross Saudi Arabia air space, landing in the UAE in August 2020.