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JERUSALEM – Officials in Jerusalem are quietly wondering whether the Federal Aviation Administration’s prohibition on U.S. flights to Tel Aviv is partially a tactic to pressure Israel into a cease-fire.
The FAA’s decision will likely impact the Israeli economy. The action, while temporary, tarnishes Israel’s image around the world, putting the Jewish state, at least for one day, on par with Third World countries where U.S. flights are banned, including Ethiopia, North Korea, Iraq, Somalia and Libya,
“Due to the potentially hazardous situation created by the armed conflict in Israel and Gaza, all flight operations to/from Ben Gurion International Airport by U.S. operators are prohibited until further advised,” reads an FAA notice to all U.S. airlines.
The FAA decision to ban U.S. flights to Israel for at least 24 hours came after a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed in Yehud, a densely populated neighborhood about one mile from Israel’s international airport, south of Tel Aviv.
Besides the FAA ban, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines indefinitely suspended service to Israel while numerous European airlines also canceled flights, as did Canadian and Turkish airlines.
Even if U.S. flights resume after 24 hours, the FAA decision sets the precedent for more flight bans in the coming days in response to any rockets hitting near the airport.
Aviation experts weighed in, explaining the FAA and airliners are likely taking necessary precautions after a Malaysia Airlines jet was shot down by a missile over Ukraine while at cruising altitude, killing all 298 people on board.
Aviation consultant Robert Mann told TheState.com that airlines may be taking a more proactive approach to avoid legal problems after the Malaysia Airlines disaster last week.
“It’s really forcing every carrier, every business jet operator to do their own due diligence, do their own risk assessment, given the geopolitical situation,” Mann said.
Aviation-accident lawyer Jonathan Reiter explained that flying into an airport after a rocket landed nearby could be utilized by passengers in lawsuits claiming negligence.
“I’m sure it is human concern as well,” Reiter told TheState.com, “but I think (the airlines) feel it is wise to err on the side of caution because it is their burden to prove they are doing everything possible to avoid injuries and deaths.”
Israeli officials, for their part, are publicly calling for the U.S. to reverse its decision, with Israel’s Transportation Ministry saying Ben Gurion International Airport is “safe for landings and departures.”
“Ben-Gurion Airport is safe and completely guarded, and there is no reason whatsoever that American companies would stop their flights and hand terror a prize,” the ministry said in a statement.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly asked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to intervene to resume U.S. flights to Israel.
Behind the scenes, several Jerusalem diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity questioned whether the FAA flight-ban was in part a tactic to press Israel into a truce with Hamas. A cease-fire would tentatively stop Hamas’ rocketing of the Jewish state.
Kerry is currently in Egypt in an attempt to negotiate a truce.
State Department Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf suggested to reporters Tuesday that Kerry may stay in the Middle East until progress is made toward a cease-fire.
Earlier Tuesday, after the decision by Delta and United to cancel flights and before the FAA ban was announced, the White House issued a statement saying the airlines were not acting on orders from the U.S. government.