Ben Gurion International Airport is usually packed with travelers in the peak tourism season of mid-July. But on Wednesday, one day after all U.S. and other major international airlines halted flights to and from Israel, the summer traffic had slowed to a trickle.
The 24-hour flight stoppage, prompted by a Federal Aviation Administration order Tuesday, came after shrapnel from a rocket fired by Gaza Strip militants reached the vicinity of the airport. That left thousands of homebound Israelis stranded abroad and international visitors stuck in Israel.
By Wednesday morning, stories were surfacing of incoming flights turning around in midair, and Israeli airlines had announced extra flights to retrieve passengers stranded in Europe and Turkey.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lobbied Secretary of State John Kerry Tuesday evening to rescind the ban, as Israeli officials argued the American government was giving Hamas a victory. The airport is a mere 50 miles from Gaza, the scene of intense fighting between Hamas fighters and the Israeli military, who are determined to halt the firing of rockets into Israel. Many of the rockets have been intercepted by the U.S.-backed Iron Dome missile shield.
The decision even drew rebuke from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who flew to Tel Aviv on Tuesday to demonstrate the safety of the route. “I’m just trying to show that it’s safe, and a great place to visit, and Israel has a right to defend its people, and they’re doing exactly what they should be doing,” he said in a statement.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday Texas Sen. Ted Cruz promised to place a procedural hold in the Senate on all Obama administration nominees to the State Department until his questions on the FAA were answered. He accused Obama of using the flight ban to pressure Israel into accepting a ceasefire with Hamas to end the weeks-long conflict.
The FAA lifted the ban late Wednesday night, saying in a statement that before making the decision, the agency had “worked with its U.S. government counterparts to assess the security situation in Israel and carefully reviewed both significant new information and measures the Government of Israel is taking to mitigate potential risks to civil aviation.” Read more about the story here.