By Michael R. Bloomberg
Just hours after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration prohibited domestic airlines from flying to Israel this week, I boarded an El Al flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City to Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv to express solidarity with the Israeli people and show the world that Israel's airports remain open and safe.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived at Ben-Gurion just before I did, and I hope he will join me in telling the FAA that the airport is secure and that the agency should immediately lift its ban on U.S. flights into and out of the airport. (The FAA lifted the ban after this article was published.)
The FAA's decision was prompted by a Hamas rocket that struck Israel about a mile away from Ben-Gurion, which lies about 40 miles from the border of the Gaza Strip. As a pilot, I've always had enormous respect for the outstanding job that the FAA's dedicated professionals do each day. But on this issue, the agency failed to consider the full implications of its action. It was a well-intentioned but poorly thought-out decision.
Ben-Gurion is the best protected airport in the world, and the recent rocket attacks by Hamas have prompted the Israeli government to take additional security precautions at the airport. Israel would not keep Ben-Gurion open if it were not secure.
Hamas would like nothing more than to close down Ben-Gurion, isolating Israel from the international community and seriously damaging its economy. By prohibiting U.S. carriers from flying into Ben-Gurion, the FAA handed Hamas a significant victory -- one that the group will undoubtedly attempt to repeat. The FAA has, regretfully, succeeded only in emboldening Hamas.
In times of crisis, acting out of an abundance of caution can be prudent. But closing down access to major infrastructure networks in the face of terrorist threats can be self-defeating.
This was something I learned as mayor of New York City. After terrorists tried to detonate a car bomb in Times Square, I went to a restaurant there the following evening for dinner -- and invited the world to join me. When terrorist plots to attack the city's subway emerged, as they would from time to time, I made sure to be seen riding it to work, as usual -- and encouraged New Yorkers to keep doing so as well. And we responded to the devastating aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks by opening the streets of Lower Manhattan as quickly as we possibly could.
In each case, we refused to allow the possibility of additional terrorist attacks to deter us from carrying on with our everyday lives. Instead, we invested heavily in resources and personnel to prevent attacks and protect critical infrastructure, as Israel has done, and we asked the world to stand with us by visiting New York City, which people did in record numbers.
Of course, the situation in New York is different from the one in Israel, a country that is under daily attack. But stopping flights to Israel is not only unnecessary to protect American lives but also counterproductive to advancing the U.S.'s interest in marginalizing Hamas and bringing peace to the region.
During my brief time in Israel, I met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. I thanked them for standing with us after the Sept. 11 attacks and offered my strong support for their actions in response to the attacks by Hamas. Every country has a right to defend its borders from enemies, and Israel was entirely justified in crossing into Gaza to destroy the tunnels and rockets that threaten its sovereignty. I know what I would want my government to do if the U.S. was attacked by a rocket from above or via a tunnel from below; I think most Americans do, too.
Israel has no stronger ally than the U.S. But the FAA's decision flies in the face of our shared interests, and makes the journey to a peace settlement all the more difficult. Lift the ban, and let American carriers take flight.