Hamas’s biggest success a chance event as airlines shun Israel
International airlines are more anxious about safety since MH17
US travelers AJ and Patrick, both from Salt Lake City in Utah, on their mobile phones as they try to book an E-ticket at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, on Wednesday. The two had a Delta Airways ticket to return from Tel Aviv to the United States but Delta, and many other airlines, cancelled all flights to and from the airport after a rocket fired by Hamas militants on Tuesday exploded close to the facility. Photograph: Jim Hollander/EPA
During more than two weeks of fighting,Hamas has been desperately trying to achieve a spectacular success, a “victory photograph” that it could show to the Gaza population.
According to the Israeli military, it had planned an unprecedented attack inside Israeli territory , sending a large number of militants via dozens of tunnels to attack numerous Israeli border communities simultaneously, killing and kidnapping as many people as possible.
This plan was thwarted by the Israeli military, as were two maritime attacks – Hamas naval commandos were killed shortly after landing ashore.
Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system has largely neutralised the rocket threat, intercepting 90 per cent of incoming projectiles heading for Israeli population centres and strategic sites. The Israeli home front kept calm and carried on, despite 2,000 rocket attacks.
Until Tuesday night.
Falling debrisThe Iron Dome on Tuesday afternoon once again intercepted a rocket heading in the direction of Ben-Gurion airport, but falling debris destroyed a home a mile from the airport.
This relatively minor incident led , within a few hours, to North American and most European airlines cancelling all flights to and from Israel. Some flights about to land at Ben-Gurion were diverted to other countries.
Hamas had chalked up its biggest success in the conflict to date; the last time foreign airlines suspended service to Israel was in 1991, when Iraq fired Scud missiles at the country.
The decision highlighted Israeli fears that the country might be labelled a war zone and suffer damage to its high- tech and investment sectors, and tourism at the peak of the summer season – 160 flights were cancelled yesterday alone.
Extra flightsBen-Gurion kept functioning and Israel’s national carrier El Al added extra flights, but the damage was done. Israeli officials were frantic, insisting that Ben-Gurion remains the safest airport in the world with absolutely no danger to incoming or outgoing flights.
However, international airlines are understandably more anxious about safety since last week, when the Malaysia Airlines jet was shot down over Ukraine.
Transport minister Yisrael Katz described the decision to cancel flights as a “prize for Hamas” and said it was impossible for a Hamas rocket to hit an aircraft.