AUSTIN, Texas–The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reversed its ban on American flights to Israel shortly before midnight Eastern time, almost as suddenly as the ban had been put into place.
The reason given by the FAA was a rocket launched by Hamas that landed in a field about a mile from Ben Gurion Airport, the international airport located in Tel Aviv.
The move had drawn sharp criticism from Israeli and American leaders. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had slammed the flight ban as “utterly without justification.” “There is no reason whatsoever for this mistaken decision,” said Netanyahu, adding that it serves as nothing more than a “huge reward for Hamas terrorism” in exchange “for absolutely nothing.”
New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg defied the ban and took an El Al flight to Ben Gurion, telling reporters after he arrived, “I would argue that Ben Gurion airport is probably the safest airport in the whole world to fly in and out of.” “Israelis”, he said, “know what it is to keep people safe.”
Texas Senator Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) had attacked the flight ban in a pair of sharply worded press releases. “The facts suggest that President Obama has just used a federal regulatory agency to launch an economic boycott on Israel,” wrote Cruz in the first release, “in order to try to force our ally to comply with his foreign-policy demands.””[S]ecurity concerns in Israel are hardly breaking news, and given the exceptional challenge Israel faces, Ben Gurion has rightly earned the reputation as one of the safest airports in the world due to the aggressive security measures implemented by the Israeli government.”
In fact, as Breitbart’s Joel Pollak reported, President Obama himself posed for a photo-op with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Ben Gurion last year–right next to one of the “Iron Dome” batteries that have been used so effectively against Hamas rockets during the current crisis:
[T]hink about that caption again: “an Iron Dome Battery at Ben Gurion International Airport.”
The point of the battery…was to protect commercial aviation in Israel–the country’s economic lifeline–from terrorist threats. For the most part, it has worked, save for one rocket that fell earlier this week one mile away from the tarmac…
That rocket strike was a rare miss for Iron Dome, but posed no threat at all to the airport. Yet Obama’s Federal Aviation Administration banned all U.S. carriers from flying into and out of Ben Gurion.
Cruz expressed skepticism whether the FAA’s move was necessary, especially considering the “punitive” and potentially “crippling” economic impact:
Tourism is an $11 billion industry for Israel, which is in the middle of a summer high season already seriously diminished by the conflict initiated by Hamas. Group tours have been cancelling at a 30% rate. This FAA flight ban may well represent a crippling blow to a key economic sector through both security concerns and worries that additional bans will down more flights and strand more passengers. It hardly matters if or when the ban is lifted. At this point, the damage may already be done.
Even given the remarkable resilience and prosperity of its economy, Israel has always been vulnerable to economic blackmail. In the 1970s, we saw the Arab League boycott, which tried to punish any financial institution that did business with Israel.
Today we have similar noxious efforts by the Boycott, Divest, Sanction or ‘BDS’ movement, which seeks to punish Israel for the fact that the militant terrorist elements embraced by the Palestinian Authority make any peace deal an intolerable security risk to Israel at this time. But the Obama Administration has refused to robustly denounce this effort to undermine our ally.
Secretary of State John Kerry’s actions also drew sharp criticism from Cruz:
Secretary of State John Kerry issued a veiled threat last February when he encouraged boycotts of Israel and said that absent serious Israeli concessions at the negotiating table, Israel’s economic prosperity was ‘not sustainable’ and ‘illusory.’ Secretary Kerry unfortunately reprised this theme just this April, when he threatened that Israel risked becoming an ‘apartheid state’ if Israel did not submit to his chosen solution to the Israel-Palestinian crisis…
When Secretary Kerry arrived in Cairo this week his first act was to announce $47 million in additional aid to Gaza, which is in effect $47 million for Hamas. In short order, this travel ban was announced by the FAA. Aiding Hamas while simultaneously isolating Israel does two things. One, it helps our enemy. Two, it hurts our ally.
Cruz included in his statement a list of questions he had for the Obama administration about the FAA’s decision, and which he encouraged Congress to investigate.
National Review reported that the State Department was dismissive of Cruz’s questions, with department spokewoman Marie Harf calling them “ridiculous and offensive.” This earned a sharp rebuke from Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier, “Well, we find the Obama administration’s foreign policy to be ridiculous and offensive.” Frazier also noted that a Hamas official had publicly cheered the FAA’s announcement. “[T]o suggest the administration’s move does not directly empower Hamas is misguided and short-sighted.”
Unsatisfied with the response from the Obama administration, Cruz then released his second press release, announcing that he would hold all State Department nominees until his questions were answered: “Serious questions were asked about the nature of a decision that handed Hamas a public relations victory and will cost Israel billions of dollars,” said Sen. Cruz. “The only thing ‘offensive’ about this situation is how the Obama Administration is spurning our allies to embolden our enemies; the only thing ‘ridiculous’ is the administration’s response to basic questions. Until the State Department answers my questions, I will hold all State Department nominees.”
In lifting the ban, the FAA stated that it had “carefully reviewed both significant new information and measures the Government of Israel is taking to mitigate potential risks to civil aviation,” but did not specify what that new information was. The agency also asserted its right and intention to reinstate the ban if it deemed necessary:
The FAA’s primary mission and interest are the protection of people traveling on U.S. airlines. The agency will continue to closely monitor the very fluid situation around Ben Gurion Airport and will take additional actions, as necessary.
Sarah Rumpf is a political and communications consultant living in Austin. You can follow her on Twitter at @rumpfshaker.