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Israel companies announce deal with UAE firm in virus fight

Two leading Israeli defence companies said Friday they had signed deals with an Emirati tech firm to battle the novel coronavirus, including by developing fast, “non-invasive” testing.

Israel’s state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems said in separate statements that they had signed agreements with Abu Dhabi-based Group 42.

Israel has no formal ties with Arab countries apart from neighbouring Jordan and Egypt.

But Gulf states including the United Arab Emirates have nurtured informal ties with Israel in recent years, partly spurred by shared hostility towards Iran.

Israel Lupa, executive vice president and head of technology at IAI’s ELTA Group, told AFP the firm’s collaboration with Group 42 was focused on developing a “non-invasive testing system” capable of detecting the novel coronavirus “within minutes”.

“We will bring the technology and they (Group 42) will bring medical knowledge,” he said.

Yoav Turgeman, IAI’s vice president and CEO of ELTA, said in the statement that IAI was “excited to sign the collaboration agreement with our Abu Dhabi partners”.

“COVID-19 does not distinguish between continents, peoples, and religions,” he added.

A spokesperson for Rafael confirmed the agreement without providing further details.

A statement on the Group 42 website dated Thursday said the company had signed “two distinct memorandums of understanding” with Rafael and IAI.

Group 42 was “privileged to follow the lead and share resources and expertise with Rafael and IAI for such a significant cause,” CEO Peng Xiao said in a statement carried by official UAE state news agency WAM.

Both Israeli companies called the collaboration with the Emirati firm “historic” and said the deal had been signed via video conference.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late last month vaunted an impending research and technology collaboration between the Jewish state and the UAE aimed at improving “health security”, without naming specific firms.

But as Israel prepares to potentially annex parts of the occupied West Bank, the Emirati ambassador to the US Yousef al-Otaiba warned last month such a move could jeopardise any warming of Arab-Israeli ties.

Israel, with a population of around nine million, has officially registered more than 27,000 novel coronavirus cases and 326 deaths.

The UAE has recorded more than 49,000 cases and 317 deaths among its 10 million residents.