Editors' pick: Originally published March 30.

Not surprisingly, United(UAL) - Get Report takes advantage of a combination of riches -- the best West Coast hub in San Francisco, the world's most advanced airplane in the Boeing(BA) - Get Report 787, and a historic China presence -- to build an imposing network of San Francisco-China service.

But now United is trying something surprising and, it would seem, far less logical: San Francisco-Tel Aviv. The inaugural SFO departure aboard a Boeing 787-9 with 252 seats is set for 8 p.m. PDT Wednesday; the flight will operate three days a week.

Tel Aviv is a not-for-everybody market, one that American(AAL) - Get Report , the world's largest airline, abandoned in January. American said Philadelphia-Tel Aviv, its only Israel route, never made money during six years of operation.

That left United's flight from Newark and Delta's flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York as the only Israel service provided by U.S. carriers. Israeli carrier El Al serves Boston, Los Angeles, Newark and Kennedy.

United's Newark-Tel Aviv service is twice daily; it uses an East Coast hub in the world's biggest travel market to gather eastbound traffic from throughout the U.S. Obviously, it is a lot tougher to gather eastbound traffic in California.

Still, the route "isn't as gutsy as you think," said Brian Znotins, United vice president of network, in an interview. "Israel is a pretty big technology center and San Francisco is the technology capital of the world, so connecting them makes sense."

In fact, the term "Silicon Wadi" is sometimes used to describe an area in the coastal plain of Israel with a high concentration of high-tech industry, according to Wikipedia; the highest concentration is near Tel Aviv. "Wadi" is an Arabic word for a valley or dry river bed, so "Silicon Wadi" is a play on the term "Silicon Valley."

Advocates for the flight included not only United's Israel sales force, but also thousands of potential passengers in the Bay area, who used the Internet to make their case. The Facebook page "Direct SFO-Tel Aviv flight" attracted 2,853 likes while an online petition got 8,586 signatures.

Another plus is that United has an established presence in Tel Aviv, where predecessor Continental began Newark service in 1989. "We've been there through thick and thin," Znotins said. "Whenever the airport was open, we were flying, while other carriers have come and gone. So we have a loyal traffic basis not only in the U.S. but also in Tel Aviv." About a third to a half of the traffic on the Tel Aviv-Newark flight originates in Tel Aviv.

In San Francisco, meanwhile, United is engaged in the most significant U.S. hub buildup of the 21st century, replicating the transformational developments of Continental's Newark hub in the 1990s and Delta's Atlanta hub in the first decade of the 21st century. At SFO, United is using 787s to open new routes to distant Asia -- including interior China and Singapore -- that wouldn't have been viable with older aircraft.

"San Francisco is really important to us, and certainly westbound is the key there," Znotins said. "But we have to make sure that domestic and European {markets} are as competitive as they can be {to serve} the business base." United already serves Frankfurt, London and Paris from SFO.

For Tel Aviv, only about a third of the San Francisco originating passengers will be connecting, primarily from the West Coast, "but the real strength of San Francisco is that the local market is so business focused," Znotins said. "We have a good product, and a lot of passengers are willing to spend money to save time."

Of course, United benefits from its fleet of 28 Boeing 787s, the largest Dreamliner fleet operated by a U.S. carrier. A unique quality of the SFO hub is the reliance on 787s for international service.

"The concentration of 787s in San Francisco makes this a good route," Znotins said. "But also the efficiency of the 787 is such that the cost of being wrong is much lower."

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.