Following a firing of a Hamas rocket near a house in Yehud, about a mile away from Ben Gurion Airport in Israel. The rocket didn’t actually hit the house; the house was hit by the remnants of the rocket after Iron Dome destroyed it. Almost immediately the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) placed a ban of at least 24 hours on American planes flying to Israel. There is some evidence that the FAA ban was sent as a warning to Israel from President Obama
Soon after the FAA decision, Lufthansa announced a 36-hour suspension that included subsidiaries Germanwings, Austrian Airlines and Swiss, and Air France announced its own indefinite suspension.
Three hours later, the European Aviation Safety Agency issued a “strong recommendation” that airlines should avoid Tel Aviv, joining action by US authorities as conflict continued on the Gaza Strip.
Many in the mainstream media said the moves were an over-reaction because of the downing of the Malaysian Air flight by Ukrainian separatists last week. Others contend the ban was an Obama warning to Israel to play nice or we damage your tourism industry.
Eugene Kontorovich pointed out in Commentary:
The subtext here is that Israel has a sword at its neck: face a private-sector no-fly zone or agree to a cease-fire that lets Hamas keep its rockets, and thus close Ben Gurion Airport again at the time of its choosing. It is a lose-lose proposition.
(…) The West Bank is vastly larger and closer to central Israel than Gaza. What Hamas could do periodically and with great difficulty will be a daily occurrence. Israel would be able to survive, but with a sword at its neck, and on terms constantly dictated by the Palestinians, and whoever is ultimately in charge of the FAA.
Indeed, the decision-making behind the FAA ban demands investigation. Ben Gurion remains an extremely safe airport. The FAA had many various measures short of a flight ban, like warnings, that it could have imposed. The FAA only warns airlines about flying to Afghanistan; it does not ban them. And the FAA move comes the day after a general State Department warning about Israel–though far more people were killed in Chicago on Fourth of July weekend than in the Jewish state since the start of the Gaza campaign.
Indeed, J.E. Dyer points out at Liberty Unyielding airports outside of Israel have had planes attacked without facing a no fly order:
I would cite the example of Pakistan, where there have been multiple, very serious attacks on commercial airports in recent months, including an attack on an airliner in Peshawar, this one on the airport in Karachi, and an earlier one involving Taliban rocket fire in Peshawar. In terms of the type of threat posed, the Pakistan Taliban is a fairly exact analogy to what Hamas can threaten Ben Gurion in Lod, Israel with – except that Israel does a much better job of securing Ben Gurion against the Hamas threat. In none of the instances in Pakistan has the FAA banned U.S. carriers from flying in and out of the Pakistani airports. At most, it has issued safety warnings.
(…)The prohibition on Ben Gurion is uniquely stringent, and inconsistent with FAA practices elsewhere. It also had to be approved by Obama. Israel is an ally, one of America’s closest partners in the world. Cutting off her commercial airport from U.S. carriers is inherently a presidential-level decision, and Obama is responsible whether he made it or not.
Last night Netanyahu appealed to John Kerry to try and get the FAA ban rescinded:
Netanyahu spoke this evening with … Kerry and asked him to act to restore flights by American airline companies to Israel,” sources in Netanyahu’s office told AFP.
Kerry said the order would be reviewed within in a day and told Netanyahu the ban was solely due to safety concerns, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
Tourism is essential to Israel’s economy and there is certainly enough evidence that the FAA ban as temporary as it may be is a warning to Israel, “submit or lose a big part of your economy.”
Witness the fact that El Al is still flying. Some may say that of course it is flying, it is Israel’s airline, but they don’t understand Israel’s tourist industry. Because tourism is so important to Israel’s economy El Al would not risk the chance of a major public catastrophe if there was the slightest chance of a rocket hitting a plane. That would damage the tourism industry for a lot longer than a short travel ban from the FAA.
The lack of a valid threat may be the reason why Secretary of State Kerry felt safe to fly into Tel Aviv this morning.
A few hours after the FAA decision Bloomberg said he was getting on a flight to Tel Aviv, announcing the trip on his website:
This evening I will be flying on El Al to Tel Aviv to show solidarity with the Israeli people and to demonstrate that it is safe to fly in and out of Israel. Ben Gurion is the best protected airport in the world and El Al flights have been regularly flying in and out of it safely. The flight restrictions are a mistake that hands Hamas an undeserved victory and should be lifted immediately. I strongly urge the FAA to reverse course and permit US airlines to fly to Israel.
I very rarely agree with Mayor Bloomberg, but this time he is right. However the Mayor shouldn’t be urging the FAA, the real culprit may live at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.