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Report: Israeli defense officials working to secure direct flights to Qatar for the World Cup

Hopes in Jerusalem are high that Doha will agree to cooperate in order to better the soccer experience for tens of thousands of Israelis expected to attend the tournament

Copy of World Cup trophy on background logo of the FIFA World Cup 2022, which will be held in Qatar, on a giant screen in Moscow city center, Sep. 2019 (Photo: Screenshot)

Senior Israeli defense officials are working with Qatari authorities to initiate direct flights between Tel Aviv and Doha – Qatar's capital – during the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Israel Hayom reported on Sunday.

If established, the flights would bring thousands of Israelis to the international tournament hosted by the Gulf nation, with no layovers.

Since Israel and Qatar do not have official diplomatic ties, Israeli soccer fans will have to take connecting flights to get there, as opposed to a three-hour direct flight. The trip could last several more hours with a likely stop in Turkey, Cyprus or Jordan.

Officials told the Israeli newspaper that such an initiative has the potential to strengthen ties between Israel and Qatar since it will require public coordination and interaction. They hope to bring the idea forward to the Qatari leadership in the coming days.

According to estimates, around 15,000 Israelis have already won draw tickets to the World Cup, which will take place between Nov. 21 to Dec. 18. Thousands more are expected to buy tickets through agencies.

Normally, Qatar does not allow entry to Israelis. The Word Cup, however, will be an exception and, for the first time, Israelis will be able to enter on an Israeli passport, though it is still unclear whether they will be required to obtain a visa.

Qatar has rejected attempts to normalize ties with the Jewish state and has made clear that it has no intention of joining the Abraham Accords. Nor does it wish to establish partial normalization with Israel, as it did before 2009. Qatar severed ties with Israel following an operation in Gaza at that time.

Meanwhile, the Israeli National Security Council convened a meeting in April to discuss possible threats for Israelis in Qatar. One of the main concerns is potential Iranian plots against Israeli civilians, since Iranian officials are expected to attend the event.

The council’s website warns against unnecessary travel to Qatar.

"In light of the public hostility toward Israel in Qatar and the presence there of terrorist actors, Israeli citizens who travel/visit Qatar are at risk," the council said.

Nevertheless, according to Israel Hayom, Mossad national intelligence agency and Shin Bet security officials said they are working vis-à-vis Qatari counterparts to ensure the safety of Israeli tourists.

If direct flights are approved, the Shin Bet will provide security for the route, as it does for flights to the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco.

Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.

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