The several thousand IDF reservists living in the UK will be given preferential seats on El Al flights in case of war as part of a new contingency plan being prepared by the Defence Ministry and Israel’s national carrier.
The Israeli government, which privatised El Al in 2004, kept a minority holding in the company and, as part of the sale, required the airline’s new owners to commit capacity during emergencies. This meant the provision of three cargo planes and 1,200 passenger seats daily at times of war.
One of the priorities would be the return of IDF reservists who belong to crucial combat and specialist units.
In past emergencies, there was chaos at Israeli embassies and El Al ticket offices as thousands of reservists clamoured for seats. Many of them bought tickets out of their own pockets.
In an attempt to make the best use of low capacity and prevent chaos, the IDF in the past has considered setting up enlistment centres at key embassies abroad, but this option was abandoned over sovereignty concerns.
Instead, the Defence Ministry will set up a centre in Tel Aviv which, during an emergency, will co-ordinate with El Al and Israeli embassies and consulates abroad. These include those in Britain, the US, Canada, France, Germany, India and Thailand.
There are no official figures on the number of Israeli citizens living in Britain — by some assessments there are over 50,000 — nor how many of them are IDF reservists, but defence sources believe there are at least a few thousand.
In the case of an emergency, they would be asked to contact the embassy in London. The embassy would pass on their details to the IDF personnel branch, which in turn which would decide which of the reservists are needed as a matter of priority.