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Diplomatic immunity: Netanyahu said to raise trading vaccines for normalization

PM reportedly assessing idea of giving vaccine doses to other countries, including those with no current diplomatic relations with Jewish state, in bid to boost world standing

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touches the first batch of Pfizer vaccines to arrive in Israel at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, December 9, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touches the first batch of Pfizer vaccines to arrive in Israel at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, December 9, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly looking into the possibility of trading coronavirus vaccines for diplomatic relations with countries that currently have no ties with Israel, Army Radio reported Sunday morning.

In conversations with a number of government sources, Netanyahu has reportedly raised the possibility of giving vaccine doses to certain unnamed countries in a bid to improve Israel’s diplomatic standing in the world.

With Israel said to have ordered more vaccines than needed, the Foreign Ministry has reportedly said that surplus vaccines will only be given to other countries after Israel has completed vaccinating its own population.

The Army Radio report nonetheless cited an Israeli government source as saying that the prime minister has stressed in his conversations that vaccine deals could be important for relations with a number of countries, and could even be used to help normalize relations with new countries.

COVID-19 vaccines in Safed on February 14, 2021 (David Cohen/Flash90)

Israel established diplomatic ties with the UAE and Bahrain in September as part of a US-brokered group of agreements known as the Abraham Accords. In addition to the two Gulf states, Israel has also reached normalization agreements with Sudan and Morocco.

The report on Netanyahu’s hopes to use coronavirus vaccines to help diplomatic relations comes after Israel is said to have agreed to purchase an unknown number of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine doses for use in Syria as part of the deal for the return of an Israeli woman who was held by the Syrian regime after she crossed the border two weeks ago. The woman arrived back in Israel on Friday via Moscow and was being debriefed this weekend by the Shin Bet security agency.

According to a report (Arabic) in the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday, Israel is funding the purchase of Sputnik V doses for Damascus as part of the prisoner exchange deal with the Assad regime. The Ynet news site reported Saturday that Israel’s purchase of the vaccine doses was to the tune of over a million dollars.

Reports of the existence of an unpublished part of the agreement circulated widely in Israeli media, but the details were barred from publication by the military censor. Knesset member Ahmad Tibi has hinted that it relates to vaccination doses; MKs are not bound by the censor.

The Israeli woman who crossed into Syria and was returned in a deal brokered by Russia, in a picture shown by Channel 13 on February 20, 2021 (Channel 13 screenshot)

Asharq Al-Awsat reported Saturday that “informed sources” in Israel confirmed the existence of the “secret clause.”

The Assad regime, for its part, denied the report, saying in a statement released by the state-run SANA news agency Saturday that the publication of these details was part of an “attempt to paint Israel as a humane country.”

Israel’s vaccination campaign is far ahead of any other country’s worldwide, with almost half its population of nine million people having received at least one vaccine dose. One in three Israelis has received both doses needed for full protection.

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