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Cablegate: Peace Airport Revived? Israeli-Jordanian Officials

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 AMMAN 005331

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAIR PTER ETRD IS JO
SUBJECT: PEACE AIRPORT REVIVED? ISRAELI-JORDANIAN OFFICIALS
CONFER


SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED; PLEASE HANDLE ACCORDINGLY

-------
SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) On the heels of an Israeli government decision to
prohibit jets from using Eilat Airport, officials from the
Jordanian and Israeli Civil Aviation authorities, Israeli
Ministry of Transportation, Eilat and Aqaba Airport
officials, and the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority
(ASEZA) Chief Commissioner met September 11 to discuss
options regarding the use of Aqaba International Airport for
previously Eilat-bound traffic. Although the first meeting
was, in the words of one participant, a "brainstorming
session", the plan could lead to the revival of the concept
of a "Peace Airport" on the Israeli-Jordanian border and
would be a shot in the arm for regional peacemaking efforts.
END SUMMARY

-----------------
AN IDEAL SOLUTION
-----------------

2. (SBU) Hanna Najjar, Director of the Jordanian Civil
Aviation Authority (CAA) filled us in on the September 11
meeting that included Director General Amos Amir of the
Israeli Civil Aviation Authority, the head of Israeli CAA
International Relations, Arkia Israel Airlines CEO Israel
Borovich, Omar al-Manha, Director of the Aqaba International
Airport, ASEZA Chief Commissioner Akel Biltaji, Robert
Burnett, Project Manager for Bechtel, and Najjar. Najjar
told us that, under pressure from the Israeli Green Party,
the Israeli Government has decided to prohibit jets from
landing at Eilat Airport effective November 1. Israeli
Greens have long called for closing the airport, located in
the center of the city of 48,000, as an environmental,
safety, and noise hazard.

3. (SBU) Najjar said the decision prompted the Israeli
officials to return to the "Peace Airport" idea: the use of
Aqaba International Airport, just on the other side of the
Israeli-Jordanian border and only 6 km from downtown Eilat,
as an alternative landing site for flights of the Israeli
domestic carrier Arkia. (Note: The eventual building of a
joint Eilat-Aqaba airport, known as the Peace Airport, was
outlined in the 1994 Jordanian-Israeli Peace Treaty. A
four-month trial period in 1997, in which some Israeli
flights landed at Aqaba, failed due to insufficient numbers
of passengers and lack of interest on the part of El Al, the
Israeli state airline, according to al-Manha. This idea
differs from the original Peace Airport scheme in that Aqaba
would only be used, at least initially, by domestic Israeli
Arkia flights. End Note.) Aqaba International can
accommodate any size aircraft, having taken 747s, C-130s,
Tupelovs, and even the Concorde. The grounds of the airport
itself border Israeli territory. Ouvda Airport, which now
serves Eilat with all international service, is an
unattractive alternative at 45 minutes away.

---------------------------------------------
WHAT WE CAN DO ONCE WE PUT OUR HEADS TOGETHER
---------------------------------------------

4. (SBU) The brainstorming session, said Najjar, produced a
number of options. Busses could take passengers directly to
the Aqaba-Eilat border crossing. A new apron, to be used
exclusively for Arkia flights, could be constructed adjacent
to the Israeli side of the runway with a short road running
directly to Israeli territory through airport property.
Alternately, the airport boundary, which currently runs along
the road to the border crossing, could be extended to include
the existing road and the crossing. (In which case, the
Aqaba authorities would be prepared to build a new road for
ordinary traffic. In any event, all the ideas foresee the
direct transfer of domestic Israeli passengers from the
airport to Israeli territory without border or other
controls.)

5. (SBU) While the talks, which included a briefing for the
Israelis on projects and progress in the ASEZ, went well,
Najjar said the Israelis agreed to take the ideas back to
Israel. Al-Manha was enthusiastic. He said it was an
"excellent" meeting, and that his Israeli colleagues, whom he
said he speaks to regularly, believe this to be a "great
opportunity". Al-Manha said, "This could be an excellent
example for the international community of what we can do
once we put our heads together."

-------
COMMENT
-------

6. (SBU) In the fashion of QIZs and the recent joint
agreement to cooperate on Dead Sea environmental issues, a
revival of the Peace Airport, in whatever form, would be yet
another instance of Jordanian-Israeli cooperation. Once
Israeli security concerns are addressed, the project, in its
most basic form, needs little investment in time or money to
move forward. We believe success in this limited venture
should be encouraged, and may lead to a re-examination of the
original Peace Airport plan.


GNEHM

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