Ben Gurion International Airport
Ben Gurion International AirportIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Employees of Israel’s three airlines - El Al, Israir and Arkia - launched a strike at 5:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, causing flights to be cancelled.

In anticipation of the airline strike, Israel’s airspace was opened for flights an hour earlier, allowing the three airlines to move up the flights and the passengers to take off towards their destinations before the strike.

The airline workers are protesting the “Open Skies” program, which is set to be brought for a vote before the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday morning.

The program will significantly increase the number of foreign carriers permitted to fly to Israel, resulting in lower airfares and an increase in the number of tourists coming to Israel. As a result, workers at Israel’s three airlines fear for their jobs.

On Saturday night, the chairman of the Histadrut labor union Ofer Eini sent a letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, asking him to postpone the vote until a serious discussion with all the relevant parties is held.

“Avoid making a difficult and devastating decision. Implementation of the Open Skies program in its current form may lead to a complete collapse of the airline industry in Israel,” Eini wrote Netanyahu.

“I am asking you at this critical hour to avoid difficult and destructive decisions, without a substantive discussion and based on incomplete and misleading information regarding the approval of the Open Skies agreement," he added.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz was unfazed by the strike threat, saying on Friday that he has no intention of backing down from the “Open Skies” program and that he will bring the agreement for Cabinet approval as scheduled on Sunday.

“Anyone who threatens with strikes is threatening no one but himself,” Katz said during a television interview.

Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett said on Thursday that he is opposed to the planned strike by Israel’s airlines.

“One needs to use the threat of strikes wisely. Flights and airports are a national resource of the State of Israel and it is inappropriate to stop them from working every time there is a problem," said Bennett, who indicated that he supports the “Open Skies” program.