Skip to main content

Israel's terror campaign against Arab airports continues without respite

Country's passion for bombing Arab civilian airports harks back to 1948. Its recent attack on Damascus International Airport carries on a bloody tradition
A Cham Wings Airlines Airbus A320-211at Syria's Aleppo airport after flights were diverted from Damascus airport following an Israeli strike the previous week, on 15 June 2022 (AFP)

In its latest terror campaign against Syria, Israel bombed Damascus International Airport last week, killing two Syrians, after having also threatened to bomb Beirut International Airport earlier in the month.  

Israel justifies all these terrorist acts as part of its 'right to defend itself' and flouts international law by raining destruction on its neighbours without respite

Israel's recent bombing of the Syrian airport, however, is the latest in its ongoing terror raids on civilian Syrian airports in Damascus and Aleppo, both of which were bombed last September, killing five people. Indeed, Israel had already bombed Damascus airport last June, disrupting civilian aviation. 

In the course of hundreds of terror raids on Syria since 2011, Israel began to target Damascus airport and its environs at least as early as May 2013. More Israeli terror raids on the airport ensued in 2014, and later in 2017, 2018 and 2019, resulting in scores of casualties. 

Indeed, Damascus Airport has been a target for the Israeli terror machine since June 1967, when its US-supplied air force bombed it during Israel's invasion of Syria. That same week in June 1967, and during its invasion of neighbouring Jordan, Israel's attack planes bombed Amman's civilian international airport

But Israel has not only been active in bombing Arab civilian airports, itself a new form of terrorism unprecedented in the Middle East, but had also inaugurated plane hijackings as early as 1954 with an act of air piracy targeting a Syrian civilian plane.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


In 1973, it skyjacked a Lebanese civilian airliner, and in 1976 a Saudi airliner. It was also the first country to down a civilian passenger plane when it shot down a Libyan airliner in 1973, killing 106 passengers on board. 

But Israel's terrorist passion for bombing Arab civilian airports is in a class of its own and harks back to 1948.

A long history

In July 1948, the Israelis invaded the Palestinian cities of Lydda and Ramleh and expelled the majority of their populations while committing barbaric massacres against Palestinian civilians, the most horrendous of which was in the Lydda mosque, where 179 Palestinians were slaughtered. 

It was during this invasion that the conquering Zionist forces captured Palestine's Lydda International Airport. The airport was built in 1934 by the British during their colonial occupation of the country on the site of military landing airstrips built by the Ottomans in 1917 for use during World War I.  

Algeria, Israel and the last European settler colony in the Arab world
Read More »

By 1937, the airport was expanded to four runways, becoming an important route for international airlines, including the British, Dutch, and Polish, but especially for the Egyptians. TWA flew its first transatlantic flight from New York to Lydda Airport via Cairo in 1946. 

When UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte proposed on 26 June 1948 that Lydda International Airport be a "free port" for use by all parties, the Zionists rejected his plan a week later. Zionist tanks captured the airport on 10 July 1948. Today, it is Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport. Bernadotte himself was assassinated by Israeli terrorists on 17 September 1948.

After invading Jordan and occupying the West Bank, Israel took over yet another of Palestine's airports, namely Qalandiya Airport, near Jerusalem.

The airport had been built in 1925 by the British army and renovated in 1936 by the Ukrainian Jewish colonist and businessman Pinhas Rutenberg, an anti-Bolshevik counterrevolutionary, who arrived in Palestine after World War I. 

Rutenberg would go on to establish Palestine Airways. After 1948, the Qalandiya Airport came under Jordanian jurisdiction, when Jordan occupied eastern and central Palestine. In 1950, it was renovated, expanded and renamed by the Jordanians as the Jerusalem Airport

By 1955, the airport's major runway was extended, with a large new terminal and parking lot built in 1960. Much smaller than Amman International Airport, more improvements were made in mid-1966 to its passenger facilities, but work on the runway was interrupted by the Israeli invasion in June 1967. 

Palestinians inspect on 1 July 2010 destruction following an overnight Israeli air strike targeting a disused airport in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah (AFP)

Arab airlines had regular flights to and from Jerusalem International Airport between 1950 and 1967, but there was reticence on the part of western airlines to use it due to their countries' refusal to recognise Jordan's annexation of East Jerusalem. 

After the Israeli conquest, the Israelis renamed the airport "Atarot Airport", and expanded it, but failed to get international recognition for their annexation and takeover of East Jerusalem, which meant that western airlines refused to use it. It was therefore relegated to domestic flights. 

The Israelis closed it down, however, in October 2000, during the second Palestinian uprising against the occupation due to "security concerns". By 2021, the Israelis planned to build a Jewish colonial settlement on the grounds of the airport, but pressure from the United States led the Israelis to shelve the plan. 

Raining destruction

In the meantime, Israel bombed Beirut International Airport in December 1968, destroying 13 civilian passenger planes, worth almost $44m at the time, in addition to hangers and other airport installations. Israel also bombed the environs of Cairo International Airport in 1970 during the so-called War of Attrition with Egypt. 

If any of Israel's neighbours were to regularly bomb Ben Gurion Airport to stop the avalanche of offensive weapons that its US and European sponsors dispatch daily, it would be cause for World War III

Israel's appetite for bombing Arab airports refused to subside. In 2001, it bombed Gaza International Airport. The airport, for which a provision was included in the 1995 Oslo II agreement, had opened in 1998, in the presence of then US President Bill Clinton. 

Renamed the Yasser Arafat International Airport, it lay in ruins after the Israelis destroyed it. 

In 2006, Israel yet again bombed Beirut International Airport, crippling it. The attack was part of Israel's bombardment of Beirut that killed 50 Lebanese civilians.  

Israel justifies all these terrorist acts as part of its "right to defend itself" against security threats and flouts international law by raining destruction on its neighbours without respite. 

That its recent campaign of terror against Damascus Airport aims at curtailing Iranian military help to the Syrian regime is just the latest in a litany of excuses that the predatory Jewish settler-colony has been using since 1948. 

If any of its neighbours were to regularly bomb Ben Gurion Airport to stop the avalanche of offensive weapons that its US and European sponsors dispatch daily, it would be cause for World War III. 

Still, during Israel's savage war on Gaza in 2014, the Palestinian resistance rockets threatened Israeli airspace, which led the US Federal Aviation Administration to prohibit US airlines from flying to Ben Gurion Airport for 36 hours, which infuriated the Israelis. 

But it was in May 2021, when more accurate rockets were developed by the Gaza-based Palestinian resistance, that, for the first time in its history, Ben Gurion Airport came under continuing fire, which forced Israel to close it down. 

While Palestinian rockets did not hit what was once Palestine's Lydda International Airport, the disruption to Israeli air traffic was celebrated in the Arab world as at least symbolic payback for decades of Israeli terror targeting Arab civil aviation. 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Joseph Massad is professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University, New York. He is the author of many books and academic and journalistic articles. His books include Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan; Desiring Arabs; The Persistence of the Palestinian Question: Essays on Zionism and the Palestinians, and most recently Islam in Liberalism. His books and articles have been translated into a dozen languages.
Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.