Speaking to reporters as he welcomed former NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport, where he arrived aboard an El Al flight, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to ban all US flights to Israel as “totally unjustified.”
“There is no reason whatsoever for this mistaken decision,” said the clearly agitated Israeli leader. Netanyahu called Tuesday’s sudden and unexpected decision that bans all US carriers from flying to Israel “utterly unjustified” and serves as nothing more than a “huge reward for Hamas terrorism” in exchange “for absolutely nothing.”
Israelis were stunned and outraged by the FAA decision which, at a stroke, left the Jewish state almost completely isolated from the outside world at one of its most vulnerable moments. Nearly everyone agrees that in imposing the ban, the FAA, whether it intended to or not, handed the terror group Hamas by far and away its biggest and (perhaps only) victory in its current war against Israel.
The FAA’s ban prohibiting all US carriers from flying into or out of Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, Israel’s only international gateway, resulted in an almost immediate cascade of non-US airlines announcing their own flight suspensions. The FAA said it reached its decision after shrapnel from an incoming Hamas rocket that had been successfully intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defensive missile shield landed damaged a home roughly a mile and half from airport property. The announcement also came less than a week after a Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 with 298 people aboard was shot down over eastern Ukraine, almost certainly by pro-Russian separatists.
Bloomberg arrived as part of a solidarity mission to show support for the beleaguered Jewish state aboard an El Al 767 named “Sderot” in honor of the southern Israeli community that borders Gaza and has born the brunt of Hamas rocket attacks. Sharing in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s outrage at the FAA flight ban, Bloomberg said, “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.”
Following up his remarks in English, Netanyahu toughened up his rhetoric in Hebrew. He called the decision “utterly without justification” and repeated his demand that “US authorities immediately revisit and reverse this mistaken decision.”
In its first 24 hours, the FAA’s ban resulted in the cancellation of at least 80 flights to and from Israel. Several airlines, including British Airways, Russia Airways, Czech Airlines and Ukraine International Airways have maintained normal flight schedules to and from Israel.