The State Department denied today that yesterday’s travel warning coupled with today’s FAA decision to keep planes away from Israel is an administration strategy to put economic pressure on the Jewish state.
The Federal Aviation Administration issued a notice at lunchtime today “informing U.S. airlines that they are prohibited from flying to or from Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport for a period of up to 24 hours.
“The notice was issued in response to a rocket strike which landed approximately one mile from Ben Gurion International Airport on the morning of July 22, 2014,” the FAA said in a statement. “The [Notice to Airmen] NOTAM applies only to U.S. operators, and has no authority over foreign airlines operating to or from the airport.”
“The FAA immediately notified U.S. carriers when the agency learned of the rocket strike and informed them that the agency was finalizing a NOTAM. The FAA will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation. Updated instructions will be provided to U.S. airlines as soon as conditions permit, but no later than 24 hours from the time the NOTAM went into force.”
The notice was issued soon after Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in the region to attempt to broker a ceasefire agreement. He announced a $47 million humanitarian aid package to the Palestinians soon after touching down in Cairo on Monday.
“The Department of State recommends that U.S. citizens consider the deferral of non-essential travel to Israel and the West Bank and reaffirms the longstanding strong warning to U.S. citizens against any travel to the Gaza Strip,” reads the travel warning issued Monday.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters she “would wholly disagree with that argument” that the moves are intended to put pressure on Netanyahu.
“We issue travel warnings because one of our top priorities is protecting U.S. citizens overseas. I would note that in 2012, the department also issued travel warnings for Israel, the West Bank and Gaza in March, August and December. So this is a step we have taken when we felt the situation on the ground warranted it. Obviously, that is a process that we go through that in no way is — is policy-related or politically related. It is just gets to how we can best protect American citizens,” Harf said.
“On the FAA, we to my knowledge were not involved in that decision-making. Obviously, we knew it was coming today. I was actually waiting for the announcement to come out before I came out to brief so I had more information. But the FAA makes these decisions when they feel it’s warranted, again for the safety of United States citizens. And they, in response to the recent attack at Ben Gurion Airport and the vicinity of Ben Gurion Airport, after consultation with U.S. operators, felt today that it was important to issue this notice, which is in effect for up to 24 hours and they will provide additional guidance to the — updated instructions to the aircraft operators no later than 24 hours from when it went into effect.”
Harf said it was “not true” that the White House was out of the loop on the FAA decision while the State Department had the head’s up.
“I was on many e-mail chains this morning about when the statement would actually come out that included my White House colleagues,” she said. “There’s not coordination — the FAA makes decisions on its own from a policy perspective. We all — we knew — you know, I knew a little bit before the briefing, as did the White House, that this was being announced publicly on the communications side. But from a policy perspective, this is a process driven entirely by the FAA.”
She said both the State Department and FAA were “in contact with the Israeli government about this,” but added that she didn’t “have specifics on what that looks like.”