Watch above: Last week’s disaster over Ukraine and a perceived increase in risk to flights flying to Tel Aviv have prompted airlines to reroute or cancel flights. Robin Stickley reports.
International airlines including Air Canada have followed the U.S. lead in cancelling flights to Israel’s Tel Aviv Ben Gurion International Airport after a rocket hit about 1.6 kilometres away from the airport Tuesday.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration put a 24-hour restriction on flights flying from the U.S. to Tel Aviv, beginning at 12:15 p.m. ET.
Israel’s El Al Airlines is not cancelling any flights to or from the airport.
In the past two weeks militants in the Gaza Strip have fired an ongoing barrage of rockets at Israeli cities, including Tel Aviv, while the Israeli Defense Force has conducted fierce air, naval and ground assaults that have killed more than 630 Palestinians – the vast majority civilians.
Israel’s Transportation Ministry insisted the airport is “safe for landings and departures,” and urged airlines to reverse their decision not to fly to there. The IDF says it has has intercepted most missiles fired at Tel Aviv using its Iron Dome mobile missile defence system.
The one fired Tuesday got past the Iron Dome and smashed into two houses in the suburb of Yehud, Haaretz reported. No one was injured.
The last time Ben Gurion was subjected to flight interruptions in this manner was in 1991, when Iraq was firing Scud missiles at Israel.
But that situation didn’t have as big an effect as there weren’t as many flights travelling to and from Israel at that time.
“If the suspension is extended indefinitely, for as long as the rockets are flying, and if it spreads to the airlines of other countries … it would create an intolerable situation for the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” Haaretz‘s Anshel Pfeffer wrote Tuesday.
Haaretz reported Ben Guiron has early-warning systems and “has prepared alternative routes and approaches” to the airport.
Dr. Theodore Postol—a professor or science, technology and national security at MIT— told Global News the risk of an airliner getting hit by a rocket fired from Gaza is slim.
But “if it did hit, it could cause substantial damage and it could cause substantial loss of life.”
Postol said he personally wouldn’t fly to Ben Gurion right now.
And he suggested the Iron Dome hasn’t had the 90 per cent success rate Israel claims.
The IDF posted on Twitter it has intercepted 1,000 rockets since the start of Operation Protective Edge.
“We can tell they’re behaving erratically because we can see rocket contrails, the smoke trails behind the rockets,” he said.
Postol has examined photographic and video evidence of Iron Dome usage since the last time it was used this heavily, during conflict with Gaza, in November 2012.
During that eight-day conflict, he said, the success rate was very low. It hasn’t improved much, he added – enough that he’s more worried about a plane being hit by friendly fire than a hostile Hamas rocket.
“I would be much less concerned about flying into an airport that was under a light barrage of these artillery rockets, than I would flying into an airport that had an air defence system that was so unpredictable I didn’t know what it was going to do.”
The Israeli Institute of National Security has claimed Postol’s findings were “dubious research without access to credible data.”
Haaretz‘s Pfeffer wrote that the FAA decision could be a move to prompt a “speedy ceasefire” if it hurts Israel’s economy. The U.S. State Dept. said that’s not the case.
“The FAA makes these decisions when they feel its warranted to protect US citizens,” The Times of Israel quoted State Dept. spokesperson Marie Harf saying. “It is in no way policy or politically motivated.”