Israel says it reached deal with UAE to jointly fight coronavirus

The deal, if confirmed, would come despite recent warnings from UAE officials against Israel’s planned extension of sovereignty in the Jordan Valley and parts of Judea and Samaria.

By Associated Press

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday that his government and the United Arab Emirates will soon announce a partnership in the fight against the coronavirus.

The deal, if confirmed, would come despite recent warnings from UAE officials that Israel’s planned extension of sovereignty in parts of the West Bank would harm its efforts to improve relations with Arab states.

There was no immediate comment from the UAE.

In a speech to graduating Israeli fighter pilots, Netanyahu said an announcement was expected “in a few moments” and came after months of “intense contacts.”

“This collaboration will be in the fields of research and development, technology, in areas that will improve the confidence in health throughout the region,” he said.

Israel and the UAE do not have formal diplomatic relations, but they are believed to maintain close behind-the-scenes contacts because of their shared concerns about Iran.

Earlier this month, the UAE’s ambassador to the United States published an op-ed in an Israeli newspaper confirming that ties had improved but warning Israel that proceeding with annexation would “upend” any efforts to normalize relations with Arab states.

“Annexation will certainly and immediately upend Israeli aspirations for improved security, economic and cultural ties with the Arab world and with UAE,” Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba wrote.

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However, last week, another leading UAE official said it was open to cooperating with Israel on efforts to combat the coronavirus and other humanitarian issues despite the political disagreement over annexation.

“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,” Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, said in an interview with the American Jewish Committee advocacy group.

Last month, the UAE sent a cargo plane to Israel loaded with coronavirus-related aid it said was destined for the Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority said it could not receive the aid because there had been no prior coordination.