Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Tuesday in a massive show of solidarity with Israel that he would be flying to Tel Aviv today after the US imposed a flight ban on Israel.
The US billionaire called on the US Federal Aviation Administrations to reverse the ban, which the FAA says was put in place to protect American citizens from rocket fire. The ban, which was supported by the Obama administration, came after rocket fragments landed in the backyard of a home some five kilometers from Ben Gurion airport.
Calling the FAA ban an “undeserved victory” for Hamas, Bloomberg called Ben Gurion the “best protected airport in the world.”
Announcing his trip via his Twitter account, Bloomberg stated: “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.”
“The flight restrictions are a mistake that hands Hamas an undeserved victory and should be lifted immediately,” he wrote. “I strongly urge the FAA to reverse course and permit US airlines to fly to Israel.”
Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called Bloomberg “a true friend of Israel” for showing “a true friend is measured in the time of need and by his actions.”
The FAA ordered all US airlines to halt service to Israel for a minimum of 24 hours.
“The FAA will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation. Updated instructions will be provided to US airlines as soon as conditions permit, but no later than 24 hours from the time the NOTAM went into force,” the FAA said in a statement.
So far, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines Group and United Airlines have cancelled their flights. Delta and United announced that service between the US and Tel Aviv has been suspended indefinitely.
Airlines with flights that were mid-flight were told to redirect and land in other countries. Delta flight 468, with service from New York to Tel Aviv, was flying over the Mediterranean when it turned around and flew to Paris instead.
US Secretary of State John Kerry told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the ban was ordered to ensure the safety of US citizens.
Aside from US carriers, other international airlines have also decided to halt their flights to Israel. Canada’s largest airline, Air Canada, cancelled its flight to Israel on Tuesday, saying it was closely monitoring the situation in Israel.
Air France suspended flights “until further notice” along with Dutch carrier KLM who stated, “We have cancelled our flight to Tel Aviv as a precaution…We’ll review the situation every day.”
Brussels Airlines suspended its flights all the way into Wednesday as well as German Lufthansa, which also affects its Germanwings, Austrian Airlines and Swiss division, and Swiss International Air Lines.
The European Air Safety Agency issued a “strong recommendation” for airlines to avoid flying to Ben Gurion until further notice.
Israel’s national carrier, El Al, has said it will continue flying as usual.
“El Al, as always, will continue regular flights from and to Israel. El Al will happily aid American companies, while still giving clear priority to passengers who purchased El Al tickets in advance,” the company said in a statement.
“In the light of Israel’s…attacks on the residents of the Gaza Strip…The armed wing of Hamas movement has decided to respond to the Israeli aggression and we warn you against carrying out flights to en Gurion airport, which will be one of our targets today because it also hosts a military air base,” a Hamas statement said.
Since the start of Operation Protective Edge, terrorists in the Gaza Strip have fired more than 2,000 rockets on Israel. Several of the rockets headed towards the Ben Gurion area have been intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.
Hamas has stated in the past that it would target Israel’s main airport and warned international carriers to avoid flying to Israel.
Israel has urged American and international carriers to continue their service to Israel, saying that there was no security risks in taking off or landing at Ben Gurion airport.
“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 Transportation Ministry said in a statement.
On Wednesday, the ministry announced that airlines concerned about the security situation could land and depart from the Ovda airport, located some 60 km north of Eilat as of noon.
Transportation Minister Israel Katz called the FAA’s decision “inappropriate” and “unfortunate.”
“There is no reason to cancel the flights to and from Ben Gurion Airport,” he said.