Morocco-Israel: First flight from Tel Aviv lands in Rabat

Morocco-Israel

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Ten days after the recognition by President Trump of Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara, an American-Israeli delegation led by his special advisor Jared Kushner, arrived in the kingdom aboard an El Al plane.

Flight LY555 took off on 22 December at 9:30 am from Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion airport and landed in Rabat a little before 3 pm. On board were senior American and Israeli officials, led by the Special Advisor and son-in-law of President Trump, Jared Kushner.

A visit that comes just over ten days after the American presidential proclamation recognising Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara, and the decision of Mohammed VI to restore diplomatic relations with Israel.

This first commercial and official flight between the two countries is full of symbolism. Displaying the flags of Morocco, Israel and the United States, the flight was given the number LY555. A choice which is not insignificant, the number 5 (hamsa in Hebrew, khamsa in Arabic) making it possible, according to traditional beliefs in Morocco as well as within the Moroccan Jewish diaspora living in Israel, to protect oneself from the evil eye, most often by means of a Khmissa (the five fingers of the hand), like the one which adorns the plane which transported the Israeli-American delegation.

The place of arrival is also highly symbolic. It was not at Mohammed V airport in Casablanca, the economic capital of the kingdom, that the Israeli-American delegation landed, but in Rabat. This gives the trip a (very) official character, confirming the resumption of diplomatic relations and direct air links announced on 10 December by President Trump and the communiqué of the royal cabinet.

The choice of Rabat is also based on practical considerations. The programme of the visit takes place in the capital, between the Mohammed V mausoleum, the Royal Palace, the primacy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, all located in the administrative capital.

Composed of several senior American and Israeli officials, the delegation is led by Jared Kushner, architect of this rapprochement between Tel Aviv and Rabat. The latter is accompanied, on the American side, by the head of the US International Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) and, on the Israeli side, by Meir Ben Shabbat, Israel’s National Security Advisor and Chief of Staff for National Security, as well as by Haim Regev, Deputy Chief of Staff.

Upon arrival at Rabat airport, the delegation was welcomed by local officials, including Mohamed Yacoubi, the wali of Rabat-Salé-Kénitra, and the president of the Rabat-Salé-Kénitra region, Abdelsamad Sekkal.

COVID ensured social distancing protocol was followed, so there were no exchanges of handshakes, but the images taken by Moroccan and Israeli television channels are historic and will remain so in the years to come. In them, we can see Meir Ben Shabbat, all smiles for the occasion of this event which, according to his own words, is of great value.

In an interview given to the Arabic-speaking Moroccan newspaper Al Ahdat Al Maghribiya, the Israeli National Security Advisor and Chief of Staff, whose parents are of Moroccan origin, stressed that this trip was a very special event for him.

Beyond its diplomatic dimension, it also has a sentimental value because his father, Chief Rabbi Makhlouf Khalifa, his mother, Aziza, and his older brothers were born in Morocco. This specificity, he points out, has allowed him to grow up with the stories of this family who lived in the kingdom in peace, prosperity and happiness and who never ceased to glorify their country of origin. Like the (almost) million Israelis of Moroccan origin living in Israel who, despite the distance and the diplomatic and political vicissitudes, have kept very strong ties with their country of origin.

Even before the reactivation of diplomatic channels, currently on the agenda, more than 70,000 Moroccans of the Jewish diaspora visited the kingdom every year. The opening of direct flights will increase this number to at least 200,000 tourists, according to the Moroccan Minister of Tourism and Air Transport, Nadia Fettah.

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