The FAA has lifted its ban on U.S. airlines flying to Israel. It issued this statement last night:
The FAA has lifted its restrictions on U.S. airline flights into and out of Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport by cancelling a Notice to Airmen it renewed earlier today. The cancellation is effective at approximately 11:45 p.m. EDT.
Before making this decision, the FAA worked with its U.S. government counterparts to assess the security situation in Israel and carefully reviewed both significant new information and measures the Government of Israel is taking to mitigate potential risks to civil aviation.
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has followed the FAA’s lead — sort of.
EASA had previously recommended that airlines refrain from using Ben Gurion. Now they recommend that National Aviation Authorities should “base their decisions for flight operations to and from Tel Aviv Ben Gurion International Airport (LLBG) in Israel on thorough risk assessments, in particular using risk analysis made by operators.” They say that their revised recommendations are based on “information provided by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) of Israel and following coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration.”
Individual airlines may still choose to avoid Israel. In its most recent statement, Lufthansa said: “At the present time no adequate authoritative new information is available that would justify a resumption of flights.”
Hamas has pointed out that since the airport is being used by Israeli military aircraft, it remains a military target.
Israel’s military use of a civilian airport must also mean that by Israel’s definition of the term, passengers and staff at Ben Gurion are being used as “human shields.”
What kind of “new information” could the Israeli government have provided in order to reverse the FAA’s earlier decision? Was it this?
“We knew about that rocket,” said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev. “We were tracking it for about three minutes, our Air Force. We could have taken it down, but because we saw that it wasn’t going to hit inside the airport, we let it through.”
When the rocket struck Yehud, just north of the airport, Col. Effi Mishov, the commander of the Dan district in the Home Front Command, said: “The Iron Dome is a great answer to the threat, but it is not 100 percent effective.”
Was Mishov lying when he suggested that the rocket had slipped past Iron Dome, or was Regev lying when he said “we let it through”?
Regev’s claim is wildly implausible. If the air force was tracking the path of this rocket with pinpoint accuracy, then they could see it was going to land in a residential neighborhood. Their mission isn’t just to protect the airport; it is to protect Israelis. Moreover, if they believed they could allow a rocket to come down so close to the airport without airlines and aviation authorities seeing this as a security threat, the Iron Dome operators must be delusional.
Mishov provided the only plausible explanation: the missile shield is not completely effective. No such shield exists in Israel or anywhere else.
Given that no evidence has been presented which could lead anyone to conclude that the safety risk at Ben Gurion airport is any less today than it was yesterday, it seems reasonable to infer that the FAA yielded to political pressure.
Meanwhile, Hamas spokesman Osama Hamden is hopefully correct in saying that the partial closure of Israel’s vital gateway to the world should give Israelis a better idea of what it means to live under siege.