On Sunday, Israeli flag-carrier El Al operated a cargo flight from Tel Aviv to Istanbul. The flight, the first in a series where an El Al Boeing 787 Dreamliner will also ferry medical supplies from Istanbul to New York, was the carrier’s first to Turkey in ten years.
The first El Al flight to Turkey since 2010
In general, COVID-19 has been effective in keeping people apart. However, in some instances, it seems to be bringing people and nations closer together. Israel’s national airline El Al has begun operating cargo flights between Tel Aviv and Istanbul, almost precisely a decade after it halted commercial services due to a diplomatic conflict.
Last week, Turkish aviation authorities granted El Al permission to operate two weekly cargo flights between the two cities. This might not be enough on its own to warrant a widebody Dreamliner, but the carrier is also transporting medical supplies and protective equipment onwards from Istanbul to New York.
— Roey Gilad (@RoeyGilad) May 24, 2020
This is not the first show of solidarity between the two countries during the pandemic. In April, Turkey started supplying medical equipment to Israel to help in the fight against the outbreak. This was an unexpected move that may have helped pave the way for a thaw in the previously frosty relations.
Contributing to record levels of trade
The embassy of Israel in Ankara said the flights would contribute to a new “record level of trade” between the two countries.
10 yıl aradan sonra ilk kez bir @EL_AL_AIRLINES kargo uçağı bu sabah İstanbul'a iniş yaptı. Bugünden sonra, #THY'nin yanı sıra ELAL da #TelAviv–#İstanbul arasında karşılıklı uçuşlar gerçekleştirerek iki ülke arasındaki ticaretin yeni rekor seviyelere ulaşmasına katkı sağlayacak. pic.twitter.com/ouDjIxH0Es
— İsrail Türkiye'de (@IsraelinTurkey) May 24, 2020
The Mavi Marmara
A decade ago, Turkey used to be Israel’s closest ally in the region. Relations between the two deteriorated abruptly when a Turkish flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip was raided by Israeli soldiers, resulting in the death of ten civilians.
An incident involving the seizing of the Mavi Marmara ship resulted in Turkey expelling the Israeli ambassador and calling back its own representative. Relations have since remained strained. Could COVID become a cause for renewed relaxation?
Up until a couple of months ago, that would have seemed not to be the case, as Turkish authorities refused El Al compatriot Israir permission to land in Istanbul. The flight was reportedly carrying Israeli security staff that were to assist with the repatriation of Israelis stranded in Turkey.
Turkish flew ten times per day pre-crisis
Before the corona-crisis, Turkish Airlines operated ten daily passenger flights between Tel Aviv and Istanbul. Turkish low-cost carrier Pegasus also operated several daily connections. Traffic mostly consisted of Israeli transfer passengers, traveling onwards from, or returning via Istanbul.
Could this newfound aeronautical goodwill extend beyond cargo? Will El Al, granted it survives COVID-19, be operating passenger flights between Ben Gurion and one of Istanbul’s airports when demand for travel begins to pick back up?
How far do you think this newfound friendship will stretch? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.