Hit by mounting fears of a Persian Gulf war, airlines cut flights to Israel today, and a Jerusalem university moved exams forward for foreign students to get them home before the U.N. deadline for Iraq to pull out of Kuwait.
Pan American World Airways said it was suspending flights for at least a week because of soaring insurance rates. British Airways and the Dutch KLM airline both said they were reducing flights from six to four a week because of scarce bookings.
British Airways had already changed its flight schedule so that aircraft and crews would not have to stay overnight in Israel, which Baghdad has threatened to attack in any gulf war.
Swissair and Air France followed suit, citing high insurance premiums.
Jerusalem’s Hebrew University said it was shortening the term for 520 foreign students so they could finish examinations and leave Israel if they wished, before the Jan. 15 deadline for Iraq to withdraw or face a possible U.S.-led attack.
“I think the panic comes more from overseas than it does from here,” university spokesman Jerry Barach said. “We moved exams up because parents have been pressuring their children to get out, as have foreign universities with students here.”
U.S.-based Pan Am is the first scheduled carrier to cancel service to Israel since Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August, which kept many would-be tourists out of the region.
“The London war risk insurance market has increased the surcharges for flights to Israel by twentyfold. That’s about $65,000 per flight to Tel Aviv,” said Danny Danziger, Pan Am’s manager in Israel.
“We simply cannot operate under these high insurance premiums. We are suspending service until Jan. 10,” he said. Pan Am had operated daily flights to Israel from its Paris hub.
Israeli Transport Minister Moshe Katsav said he believed the suspension was unjustified and said that he had instructed Israel’s national airline, El Al, to carry Pan Am’s passengers.