Over the past decade or so, I have reported from around 100 countries. I have been in the White House during the good moments (with U.S. President Donald Trump) and the bad ones (with President Barack Obama).
I have witnessed the return of the remains of an Israeli soldier from Syria through Moscow, and traveled with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Uganda, Brazil, Ethiopia and Beijing for his diplomatic visits. But Monday’s flight from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi was something completely different. It underscores the major breakthrough between the United Arab Emirates and Israel.
The fact that El Al’s Star of David flew over Saudi Arabia symbolizes the tectonic shift underway in relations between Israel and the Arab world. Israel took a giant leap forward on Monday in its effort to integrate into the region. The hostility and the boycotts are now a thing of the past, a new era of cooperation and friendship has begun.
The enormity of these developments was palpable among all those who were on board, not just the Israeli and U.S. officials but also the flight crew and reporters. Everyone talked about how it was such a great privilege to be taking part in this historic event. Special face masks decorated with the flags of the United States, the UAE and Israel were handed out; the boarding passes also had a special design.
It’s also worth noting that throughout the three-hour flight, Israeli and U.S. officials sat next to each other as if they were family or citizens of the same nation. Such closeness among the senior members of both governments is unprecedented. This intimacy in and of itself is an accomplishment that stands out.
One of the most moving moments was when the head of Israel’s National Security Council, Meir Ben-Shabbat, addressed the Emirati people in Arabic, with the Israeli flag and the El Al plane in the backdrop at the Abu Dhabi airport. This image will live forever in Israeli history books, for good reason.
Now that the festivities are over, however, the hard work begins. This part usually takes longer and will no doubt be more complex. Crises may emerge, but the overwhelming majority of issues don’t require any gaps to be bridged. There are some external problems, chief among which is the question of whether Saudi Arabia will grant Israeli carriers a green light to enter its airspace.
Another, more important question, is what will happen with the extension of Israeli sovereignty to Judea and Samaria. Israel has agreed to put this on hold in exchange for the normalization with the UAE, but sooner or later this suspension will come to an end.
Ariel Kahana is a diplomatic correspondent for Israel Hayom.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.