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Israeli and Emirati companies join to fight coronavirus

What happened: Two private Israeli companies have signed cooperation agreements with two UAE companies to research and develop technology in the fight against the coronavirus.

  • The Emirati state news agency WAM confirmed the initiative between the private firms yesterday. “This scientific and medical agreement forms part of constructive cooperation aimed at addressing the COVID-19 pandemic to safeguard the health of the region’s peoples. As a result of the pandemic’s spread worldwide, it is imperative to place the protection of humanity at the forefront of global action to overcome this unprecedented crisis.” The names of the companies were not revealed.
  • Israel’s Health Ministry Director General Prof. Hezi Levy said that scientific and medical cooperation bridges would be built to address political-historical challenges that would improve and strengthen the health and resilience of the residents of the region. Prof. Levy said that solutions must be found to safeguard people’s health when facing a pandemic on a scale that the world had not seen until today.
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broke the new initiative between the two countries earlier on Thursday. Addressing a military ceremony in southern Israel, Netanyahu said: “The health ministers of the UAE and the State of Israel will announce cooperation in the fight against the coronavirus. This cooperation will be in research and development, and technology, fields which could improve the health security of the entire region. This is the result of continuous and intensive contacts over the past few months.”

Context: The new initiative comes at a time of perceived Arab opposition to Israel’s plan to apply its sovereignty to parts of the West Bank.

  • On 12 June, Yediot Ahronot published an op-ed by Yousef Al Otaiba, UAE Minister of State and the Ambassador to the US, warning Israel against its plan to apply sovereignty to parts of the West Bank, saying such a move would destroy any hopes for further rapprochement between Israel and the Arab world. It was the first time a senior Emirati official was published in Israeli Hebrew media.
  • However, last week the UAE’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, said it could work with Israel on some areas, including the battle against the coronavirus and on technology, despite political differences.
  • In May and June the UAE’s Etihad Airways landed its first two direct flights from Abu Dhabi to Israel, carrying shipments of medical supplies to assist the Palestinians in coping with the coronavirus pandemic. The Palestinian Authority rejected the aid, saying it was an excuse for a step toward the normalisation of ties between Israel and the Gulf states.
  • A Thursday report by Ynet said that a shipment of 100,000 coronavirus test kits delivered to Israel earlier this year by the Mossad from an undisclosed country came from the UAE.
  • The number of positive coronavirus cases continues to rise in Israel. The Health Ministry announced last night that within 24 hours, the number of people infected with coronavirus rose by 668 – the highest daily increase since April.
    Forty-seven patients are in serious condition, and 29 of them are on ventilators. At present, there are 6,084 confirmed patients in Israel. The number of fatalities has risen by one to 309.
  • As a result, the government decided last night that restrictions would be applied to three neighbourhoods in Ashdod, and schools in the town will be closed.

Looking ahead: The cooperation represents Israel’s success at build stronger ties with Arab states.

  • The timing of the announcement suggests that Netanyahu is trying to prove that any move in the West Bank won’t hurt burgeoning ties with Gulf states.
  • It is also possible that the agreement is a way for the UAE to claim a role in staving off a West Bank move. This would serve Netanyahu the ladder he needs to climb down and would serve the UAE by increasing cooperation with Israel in which they have an interest.
  • Israel’s coronavirus cabinet is set to meet on Sunday to discuss reimposing some restrictions.