Thursday, October 23, 2014

Game changer

In a little noticed event during the Gaza war the banning of flights to Israel by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and European airlines is a potential game changer. The reason given for the ban was that a rocket fired from Gaza hit a house in Yahud, 1 mile from BG Airport.  Actually according to reports, it was the residue of the rocket brought down by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.  However, it is understandable that some authorities would be nervous about this situation, particularly after the downing of the Malaysian flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine by a Russian missile.  However, there is a big difference, the latter was a deliberate, if unintentional, targeting, while the former was a random act that did not threaten air-planes.  Given the sensitivity of the situation it is understandable that this temporary ban was introduced.  Hamas issued a statement calling this suspension a great victory. 
Air traffic to and from BG Airport is Israel's lifeline to the outside world.  Since it had not been disrupted until this time, all throughout the firing of thousands of missiles into Israel, one can assume that the international agencies concluded that there was no significant danger to flights then.  That continues to be the case, and so the ban was in fact lifted by the FAA after one day.  El Al and Arkia added extra flights in order to enable stranded passengers here to return home and for Israelis abroad to come back home.  Although there were many cancellations of visits and vacations due to the war, hitting Israel's tourist industry, the cessation of flights would be a greater psychological and economic blow. 
The Transport Minister Israel Katz opened Uvda Airport near Eilat, far from the missiles, for international flights to be diverted to, instead of banning them altogether.  Some criticized this move as coming too late, after the ban was already in place, and there was no prior preparation of the airport there.  Meanwhile this air transport situation is a clear indication of why Israel must never give up areas of the West Bank, that could be used by a single terrorist with a ground-to-air missile to target planes arriving at or leaving BG Airport.  Such a move would be suicidal for Israel


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