Netanyahu announces anti-coronavirus cooperation between Israel, UAE

Private companies from Israel and the United Arab Emirates plan to cooperate on developing technologies to battle COVID-19.

al-monitor Israeli police man a checkpoint at the entrance of the central Israeli city of Elad on June 24, 2020, as the government imposed a partial lockdown on several neighborhoods following a recent increase in coronavirus cases.  Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images.

Jun 26, 2020

Israel and the United Arab Emirates said June 25 that private companies from both countries will cooperate on developing technologies to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broke the news, tweeting, ‘’Today the health ministers of the United Arab Emirates and Israel will announce cooperation in fighting the coronavirus. This cooperation will be expressed in research and development [and] technology in areas that will improve health security throughout the region. This is the result of long and intense contacts in the last few months.’’ Speaking at a graduation ceremony for the Israeli air force’s pilot course, Netanyahu made a similar announcement.

Netanyahu might have gotten a bit carried away, or perhaps exaggerated on purpose. The United Arab Emirates did not contradict Netanyahu, but was quick to clarify that the cooperation in question refers to contracts signed by two private UAE companies with two private Israeli companies, and not direct cooperation between the two governments. The director of strategic communications at the UAE Foreign Ministry, Hend Al Otaiba, tweeted, "In light of strengthening international cooperation in the fields of research, development & technology in service of humanity, two private companies in UAE sign an agreement with two companies in Israel to develop research technology to fight COVID-19."

Shortly after the tweet, the UAE news agency WAM confirmed the agreement between the companies, saying, "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.‘’

Senior UAE officials have clarified recently their country’s stance against Netanyahu’s annexation plan, including the UAE ambassador to the United States, who published an op-ed in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth some two weeks ago addressing Israelis directly. The ambassador warned Israelis that annexation could damage a process of rapprochement between the Arab world and Israel. The UAE and Israel do not have official diplomatic ties, but are cooperating in several fields. For instance, Israel has for a few years had an official representative at the International Renewable Energy Agency in Abu Dhabi. The two companies that are to cooperate with UAE companies would certainly not be the first Israeli businesses to operate in the UAE.

On June 16, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash addressed a virtual conference of the American Jewish Committee, saying, “Can I have a political disagreement with Israel but at the same time try and bridge other areas of the relationship? I think I can and I think this is fundamentally where we are.’’

The private companies’ contracts give Israelis a taste of such a bridge and its benefits. Still, it does not mean that Gulf states will be willing to shut their eyes if the Knesset indeed adopts Netanyahu’s annexation plan July 1.

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