- (Upward)Israel's national airline. One of the first decisions of the new state of Israel after independence was to establish a national airline to ensure that the state, surrounded by hostile neighbors, would have an air link to the outside world. Among its first activities was flying whole communities of Jewish immigrants (see ALIYA) to Israel from neighboring Arab states. It has grown to become a significant international air carrier.On 30 September 1948, Chaim Weizmann, flying from Geneva to be sworn in as Israel's first president, arrived aboard an Israeli Air Force DC-4, repainted and reregistered one day earlier as a commercial aircraft bearing the name El Al. On 15 November 1948, El Al was legally incorporated as Israel's national airline. It was also initially known as the Israel National Aviation Company. Its first director was Aryeh Pincus, a Jewish immigrant from South Africa. El Al undertook its first international commercial flight, to Rome, Italy, on 31 July 1949, and inaugurated its commercial cargo service in 1950, using military surplus aircraft.El Al was always more than Israel's national airline; it has been a vital participant in the nation-building process. In the 1950s and 1960s, El Al aircraft were used in the airlifting of more than 160,000 Jewish immigrants from India, Iran, Iraq, and Yemen as part of Operation Magic Carpet and Operation Ali Baba.El Al reported its first profit in 1960, when more than 50 percent of all travelers to Israel arrived aboard the company's aircraft. By 1961, El Al was carrying 56,000 passengers each year and was ranked 35th in the world in number of accumulated passenger miles. In 1968, the company initiated regular flights to Bucharest, Romania, as well as cargo flights to Europe and the United States. Despite increasing security costs associated with counterterrorism, El Al was reporting a net profit by the early 1970s, with flights extended to Cairo in April 1980 following the signing of the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty.El Al operations were suspended briefly in late 1982, when the company lost $123.3 million due primarily to crises in labor-management relations. The company resumed operations in January 1983 under receivership. By 1987, El Al was again reporting a profit, with nonstop flights from Los Angeles to Ben-Gurion Airport inaugurated in May 1988. Direct flights to Poland and Yugoslavia began in 1989. After years of trying, El Al was finally granted permission from the government of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to initiate direct charter flights from Moscow in August 1991. Over the next three years, El Al, in cooperation with Aeroflot, transported more than 400,000 Russian immigrants to Israel. On 24 May 1991, an El Al Boeing 747 carried 1,087 Ethiopian Jews from Addis Ababa to Israel as part of Operation Solomon.El Al experienced continued growth and expansion in the 1990s and into the first decade of the 21st century. Direct flights were established to destinations in the Far East. In June 1996, El Al initiated its first flight to Amman, Jordan. The receivership situation that the company had been operating under since 1982 was lifted in February 1995. And in June 2003, the first phase of the long-anticipated privatization of the company was implemented when 15 percent of El Al shares were listed on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. As of March 2007, major stakeholders in El Al included Knafaim Holdings (42 percent), the state of Israel (13 percent), and employee unions (8 percent). From its humble beginnings in 1948, El Al in 2007 had grown into a major international airline servicing 48 destinations on 4 continents.Even as it experiences continued growth, El Al is compelled to bear the operational and financial burden of security and counterter-rorism. The first terrorist attack against El Al occurred on 22 July 1968, when Palestinian skyjackers forced an El Al jetliner to land in Algeria. On 26 December 1968, terrorists attacked an El Al jet at the airport in Athens, Greece, prompting the airline to use special guards as its regular security force. On 18 February 1969, terrorists attacked an El Al airliner at a Zurich airport. On 6 September 1970, El Al security repelled an attempted skyjacking by a Palestinian terrorist group. Such attacks compelled El Al, in coordination with the Shin Bet (Shabak) and other agencies of Israel's intelligence network, to institute counterterrorism measures that today make El Al the most secure airline in the world. While much of El Al's counterterrorism program emphasizes detecting, isolating, and neutralizing potential terrorists before they have the opportunity to enter an aircraft (through a complex, multilayered screening of passengers), in reaction to the attempted shooting-down of an Israeli charter flight in Kenya in 2002, the airline is investigating the application to civilian airliners of the "Flight Guard" infrared antimissile system designed by a subsidiary of Israel Aircraft Industries.
Historical Dictionary of Israel. Bernard Reich David H. Goldberg. Edited by Jon Woronoff..