Netanyahu’s 1st crisis with Biden? US demands Israel open skies or El Al will be banned

If the government refuses, Israeli planes will not be allowed to land in the United States.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The U.S. administration has issued an ultimatum to Israel to open its skies to American flights this week or see El Al banned from landing in the U.S., Channel 12 News reported Saturday night.

According to the report, officials in the Biden administration sent a message saying, “Why do you need a crisis with the new administration? Allow our planes to fly to Israel.”

Fearing the import of new, deadlier mutations of the Covid-19 virus, the government shut down Ben Gurion airport on Jan. 26 to all foreign airlines. El Al won a tender last Monday to bring home some of the thousands of Israelis stuck in the U.S. on so-called emergency flights.

Delta and American Airlines made runs into Israel during previous months of the pandemic and are looking to recoup some of their massive losses from last year’s major international travel ban. Along with other foreign airlines, they are now being allowed only to bring in cargo, not passengers.

The American Transportation Department officially complained to its Israeli counterpart and the Foreign Ministry on Thursday that such a closure violates the aviation deal between the two countries. Although the agreement states that El Al has the right to be the sole operator during emergencies such as war, the U.S. is arguing that this definition should not be applied to this stage of the coronavirus crisis.

Israel’s Transportation Ministry will hold an emergency meeting Sunday to discuss the issue. As of now the closure is in effect through Feb. 20.

The flights are not open to just any Israelis. Passengers may board only if they have received permission from the Exceptions Committee that Israel set up to decide who can return to the country. Request forms available online must be supported by documentation proving the dire necessity to return. Examples include the need to receive medical treatment and attend a legal proceeding or a funeral of a first-degree relative.

Passengers must also present a negative Covid-19 test taken within 72 hours of the flight. Once they land in Israel, they must quarantine in a hotel, albeit at the state’s expense, for two weeks. They can leave after 10 days if they agree to take another Covid test upon arrival and get another negative result.

There are two other locations from which Israelis can get back home. El Al is also operating rescue flights from Dubai, and Israir from Frankfurt, Germany.