NEW: Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat says if "you get scared, you're helping Hamas"
NEW: Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg flies to Israel on its national airline
NEW: Hamas targets airport "because it's used by the Israel air forces," rep says
The FAA ban on U.S. flights to Tel Aviv is "a major setback" for Israel, official says
The FAA’s ban on U.S. flights to and from Israel’s main airport for a second day marks another blow to that country’s economy and a success for Hamas militants, experts said Wednesday.
Even Israeli officials acknowledged the economic setback in the first 24 hours of the ban, which the FAA will review again Thursday. The European Aviation Safety Agency also recommended avoiding Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, when the FAA imposed its ban Tuesday.
“I will not hide it from you. This is a major setback from Israel, the unfortunate American decision and what followed later was the European decisions,” said Giora Romm, director of Civil Aviation Authority of Israel.
“And it is a big hit to the Israeli economy and to our pride,” he said.
But he and other Israeli officials insisted their country’s sophisticated anti-missile system makes Ben Gurion Airport a safe place, even though a Hamas rocket from Gaza fell one mile away from the airfield, prompting the FAA temporary ban on U.S. flights.
“We knew about that rocket,” said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev. “We were tracking it for about three minutes, our Air Force. We could have taken it down, but because we saw that it wasn’t going to hit inside the airport, we let it through.”
The FAA ban marks something of a victory for Hamas – as well as prudent decision to protect commercial airlines, one expert said.
“I would say it’s both because what is the objective of terrorists? To incite terror in people,” said Tim Clemente, a retired FBI counterterrorism agent, who was referring to Hamas.
“I think because they probably got lucky with this one rocket that came close enough to Ben Gurion to make it seem like the threat was legitimate,” Clemente added.
“It probably seemed like an empty threat initially. The more and more rockets flying into Israeli air space, (it’s) eventually bound to happen that they could go this far. These projectiles, no different than firing a bullet into the air, it’s got to drop in somewhere, and that trajectory is not well known by the person who fires it.”
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, who flew to Israel a couple of months ago, said he would feel comfortable flying to Tel Aviv this week, despite the FAA decision.
“Yes, I would feel comfortable, but I can understand why the FAA or other airlines who have liability concerns, who are worried about not just what one or two passengers feel but what everybody feels, I understand why they’re being cautious,” Kaine said.
Last week’s shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine, “demonstrates reason for caution,” Kaine added.
Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, described the missile landing near the airport as one victory in the ongoing war between Hamas and Israel in Gaza.
“The resistance success in stopping the air traffic and isolating Israel from the world is a great victory for the resistance,” Barhoum told Al-Aqsa TV.
Another Hamas spokesman, Osama Hamdan, said Hamas is targeting Ben Gurion Airport “because it’s used by the Israel air forces.”
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg flew Wednesday to Israel aboard its national airline El Al and met with the Prime Minister and with President Shimon Peres.
Bloomberg took exception with the FAA’s temporary ban and said air travel to Israel was safe. He described the Tel Aviv airport and the national airline as “the world’s most secure.”
“The fact that a rocket falls a mile away doesn’t mean you should shut down air traffic into a country and paralyze the country,” Bloomberg said.
Bloomberg said he was “standing up for what’s right” and condemned Hamas for trying to kill Israelis.
Referring to Hamas’ claim of victory in disrupting air traffic, Bloomberg said, “I probably don’t agree with a lot of things that Hamas says, but that is probably true.”
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said if Israel thought flying there was a risk, “I would have called Michael (Bloomberg) and said, ‘Don’t come.’
“The reality is that if Hamas goes ‘boo’ and you get scared, you’re helping Hamas with its goals,” Barkat said. “That’s what terrorists try to do. They try to terrorize you.
“The best way to fight terrorism is exactly go on with your normal life,” the mayor said.
CNN’s Tim Lister contributed from Jerusalem.