As visitors to Israel go, it could hardly have been more unexpected.
A Boeing 737 plane was seen parked on the tarmac at Tel Aviv’s airport on Wednesday with the logo “Wings of Lebanon” inked on the white fuselage, appearing like it had arrived from a neighboring country Israel has been officially at war with for more than 60 years. The unusual sight shocked travelers and staff at Ben Gurion, with rumors flying that Lebanese dignitaries were on a secret mission.
“I rubbed my eyes and thought I was dreaming,” one airport worker told the Times of Israel. “I couldn’t understand what was going on.”
The reality, though, was less dramatic.
The aircraft was leased by Wings of Lebanon from Turkey’s Tailwind Airlines two months ago to use for chartered flights during the summer, the Lebanese company said in a statement. It was sent for maintenance work to Turkey this week and was supposed to be sent back to Lebanon five days later, which is why the logo was not removed, it added.
“A surprise guest this morning at Ben Gurion Airport,” Israeli broadcaster Nitzan Glusman said on Twitter. “Stay calm, it wasn’t bringing a delegation from Beirut for peace talks, it’s a plane that was leased” from a Turkish airline.
Ofer Lefler, spokesman for the Israel Airports Authority, confirmed that the plane had landed at Ben Gurion yesterday. Wings of Lebanon was “surprised” and immediately contacted Tailwind Airlines to demand an explanation, the company said. It said the flight originated from the southern Turkish city of Antalya. Any dealing “with the Israeli enemy is a red line for us,” it added.
What happened was that Tailwind completed the maintenance in two days and used the plane for the remaining three days to take passengers from Turkey to Israel and Germany, Chief Executive Officer Safi Ergin said in an interview.
“The aircraft’s landing in the Israeli airport may have caused some bewilderment because of the Lebanon sign on the fuselage,” he said by telephone. “The plane stayed at the airport for about an hour and then took off for Turkey.”
Ghazi Zeaiter, Lebanon’s public works and transportation minister, said the incident was a "crime which we totally reject." He said Lebanon will carry out an investigation and the plane will never be allowed to fly back to Lebanon.
—With assistance from Alisa Odenheimer and Ercan Ersoy.