The US Department of Transportation officially complained to its Israeli counterpart after only El Al was granted an exception to continue flying into Israel despite the border closure, government sources confirmed on Thursday.
Two El Al flights were scheduled to depart New York’s JFK Airport on Thursday to bring home Israelis who have been stuck abroad due to the grounding of all flights for the past three weeks.
El Al won a bid by Israel’s Civil Aviation Authority to operate the emergency flights, as well as flights to Dubai. Israir has been operating rescue flights to and from Frankfurt.
US-based airlines Delta and United – along with every carrier other than El Al – have not been permitted to operate flights between America and Israel.
The US Department of Transportation complained to the Foreign Ministry and Transportation Ministry that this situation violates the aviation agreement between the countries, which was meant to guarantee equal treatment of Israeli and American airlines.
The aviation agreement allows El Al to be granted exclusivity in case of an emergency, but the Transportation Department argued that the current stage of the COVID-19 pandemic does not amount to an emergency like a war.
An Israeli government source denied that this amounts to a diplomatic incident, as first reported on Channel 12 news, and said that the sides were holding a dialogue on the matter.
Any change in Israeli policy would require a new cabinet decision. The current closure, meant to stop foreign variants of COVID-19 from entering Israel, was set to continue until the end of the month. The UK Embassy in Israel denied a report that they plan to lodge a similar complaint.