Daily Israel Report

European Nations Bar Heavy El Al Cargo Planes

Five European nations have informed Israel’s largest airline that El Al flights carrying heavy munitions cargo to Israel will no longer be allowed to stop for refueling at their airports.
By Hana Levi Julian and Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 9/5/2006, 1:46 PM / Last Update: 9/4/2006, 7:12 PM

All five nations -- Britain, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Germany -- have diplomatic relations with Israel and have been involved in the effort to expand the UNIFIL peacekeeping force in Lebanon. Nonetheless, they now refuse to allow Israel’s national carrier to make stopover landings for refueling when carrying heavy cargo from U.S. army bases.

In a letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the Defense, Tourism and Finance Ministries, Itai Regev, chairman of El Al’s pilots union, complained that the new rules severely restrict arms deliveries to Israel from the U.S. “Cargo planes are taking off from the U.S. with much lighter weight, and are reaching Israel with significantly fewer munitions than needed," he wrote.

Regev explained to Arutz-7 that the situation is absurd: "Israel has recently decided to allow government employees to fly on Italy’s national carrier, Alitalia, rather than with El Al. Yet at the same time, Italy and others are restricting us, causing us to fly with fewer munitions than we need."

"Israel's response to this is the transfer of labor to Italian pilots at the cost of Israeli pilots," Regev wrote.

Government workers have traditionally flown abroad solely with Israel’s national carrier, but that custom was recently ended by the Olmert administration due to budgetary reasons. However, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik (Kadima) has overridden the government decision, advising MKs and employees to fly only on Israeli airlines that fly to their desired destinations.

Regev added that although the European refusal to allow refueling stopovers falls within the political domain, it impacts on Israel’s security, striking “a substantial blow to state defense.”