Indonesia officials said to have visited Israel to talk COVID, despite lack of ties

Delegation reportedly part of US effort to warm relations between the countries; Foreign Ministry won’t confirm visit but says ‘believes in international cooperation’ against virus

People line up to register for a booster shot of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a community health center in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)
Illustrative: People line up to register for a booster shot of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a community health center in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

A delegation of Indonesian officials recently made a rare visit to Israel to discuss coronavirus strategies, despite the countries not having diplomatic relations, Army Radio reported Monday.

The Indonesian health officials met with Israeli officials in an effort “to learn how to deal with the coronavirus pandemic,” the report said.

The report did not specify when the visit took place, saying it was in “recent weeks.”

The report said the visit was part of efforts by US President Joe Biden’s administration to warm ties between the countries in the hope of expanding the Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between Israel and several Muslim nations.

The Foreign Ministry would not confirm the report, but said that Israel “believes in international cooperation in every regard to the fight against the coronavirus” and is prepared to share information and experience.

Indonesia suffered from a devastating wave of infections from the Delta variant last year and is currently seeing soaring cases caused by the Omicron strain.

A medical worker shows a bottle of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine during a third dose vaccination campaign at a community health center in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

Israel and Indonesia do not have diplomatic relations, but for years there have been backchannel overtures to establish official ties.

Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, has refused to normalize relations with Israel until an independent Palestinian state is established, and has been a staunch supporter of the Palestinians.

Last month during a visit to the Indonesian capital Jakarta, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reportedly raised the idea of the country joining the Abraham Accords brokered under the previous US administration of former president Donald Trump, which have seen Israel normalize relations with four Arab countries.

The report, by the Walla and Axios news websites, cited Israeli officials familiar with the discussions, who assessed that no imminent breakthrough was likely.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, and Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi sign a Memorandum of Understanding at the Pancasila Building in Jakarta, December 14, 2021. (Olivier Douliery/Pool Photo via AP)

In November, Israel’s chargé d’affaires in Bahrain spoke with Indonesia’s defense minister in a rare public interaction between officials from the countries, which have never had formal diplomatic ties. The encounter between Itay Tagner and Prabowo Subianto took place on the sidelines of Bahrain’s annual Manama Dialogue conference.

Additionally, National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata met briefly during the same conference with Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, exchanging business cards with him, according to Walla.

Itay Tagner, Israel’s chargé d’affaires to Bahrain (left), speaks with Indonesia’s Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto during the 17th IISS Manama Dialogue in the Bahraini capital Manama, on November 20, 2021. (Mazen Mahdi/AFP)

US officials told The Times of Israel earlier this year that the Trump administration had Indonesia and Mauritania lined up to be the next Muslim countries to normalize relations with Israel, but ran out of time. A deal with Jakarta could have been inked if Trump had another month or two in office, US officials said at the time.

With a population of over 270 million, Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country. That gave it “extra symbolic importance” for the Trump administration, which maintained that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict need not be a hindrance to peace between the Jewish state and the Muslim and Arab worlds, a US official explained.

Indonesia’s president tried to tamp down speculation at the time, telling Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that his country would not normalize ties with Israel until a Palestinian state had been established.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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