The number of countries Israel is planning to provide with coronavirus vaccines in return for diplomatic support has grown, according to Hebrew media reports Wednesday, as top health officials said they weren’t consulted on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to give away doses.
The list now includes 19 countries, the Kan public broadcaster reported, while Army Radio put the number at 20.
Among the countries now reportedly slated to get vaccines is Mauritania, which has no diplomatic ties with Israel.
The northwestern African country became the third member of the Arab League to establish diplomatic relations with Israel in 1999, but cut ties a decade later amid the 2008-2009 Gaza war. US officials told The Times of Israel last month that Mauritania was close to normalizing relations with Israel before president Donald Trump’s term ended.
Other countries named by Kan included Cyprus, Hungary, Guatemala, Czech Republic, Maldives, Ethiopia, Chad, Kenya, Uganda and Guinea. Each country will receive between 1,000 and 5,000 doses of Moderna vaccine.
The broadcaster said it remained unclear how the decision to give doses away was made or how the list of countries, which was passed on by the National Security Council, was drawn up.
Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash said he wasn’t consulted on the plan.
“I understand there were various considerations but I can’t address them,” he told the Ynet news site. “It’s important to vaccinate all Israeli citizens and this is the top priority.”
Chezy Levy, director-general of the Health Ministry, also said he wasn’t consulted.
“We did a lot to bring enough vaccines for the entire population. At the moment we’re in the process of acquiring further vaccines,” Levy told Army Radio.
The latest reports came after Kan revealed Tuesday that Netanyahu was offering vaccines to various countries in return for diplomatic support, and would send thousands of doses for medical staff in the Palestinian Authority.
The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that it was sending thousands of vaccines to the Palestinian Authority as well as shots to several countries, without specifying further.
According to a statement from the PMO, Israel has been contacted by numerous countries with requests for vaccines. The statement didn’t name the countries or the type of vaccines that will be donated, only saying that thousands of immunizations will be sent to Ramallah, the seat of the PA government in the West Bank.
Top government ministers were kept in the dark about the plan.
“The fact that Netanyahu is trafficking [in] the vaccines of Israeli citizens, which were paid for with their tax money, without accountability, shows that he thinks he’s running a monarchy, not a state,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz tweeted on Tuesday.
He added: “Such a process requires discussion and approval. Only a security, diplomatic, or urgent medical need could justify such a process and Netanyahu must present this to the public or at the very least have it approved by the relevant forums.”
Finance Minister Israel Katz, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, also said he was unaware of any such plan. “I sign the checks and I didn’t sign off on anything like this,” Katz told Army Radio.
The reports on Netanyahu’s hopes to use coronavirus vaccines to help diplomatic relations come after Israel was said to have agreed to purchase an unknown number of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine doses for use in Syria as part of a deal for the return of an Israeli woman who was held by the Syrian regime after she crossed the border two weeks ago.
Israel’s vaccination campaign is far ahead of any other country’s worldwide. More than four and a half million Israelis, or almost 50% of the country’s total population, have now received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Over three million Israelis have received both doses.