Companies in the United Arab Emirates and Israel will join forces to research and develop technology to fight the novel coronavirus, the two countries, which have no official diplomatic ties, said Thursday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broke the news of an impending collaboration between the Jewish state and the Arab Gulf country, following “prolonged and intense contacts”.
“This collaboration will be in the areas of research and development and technology, in areas that will improve health security throughout the region,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
Hours later the Emirati state news agency WAM confirmed the plan.
“Two private companies in the UAE sign(ed) an agreement with two companies in Israel to develop research and technology to fight COVID-19,” WAM said.
“This scientific and medical agreement forms part of constructive cooperation aimed at addressing the COVID-19 pandemic to safeguard the health of the region’s peoples.
“As a result of the pandemic’s spread worldwide, it is imperative to place the protection of humanity at the forefront of global action to overcome this unprecedented crisis,” WAM added.
The names of the companies were not immediately revealed and there were few other details.
Hind al-Otaiba, director of strategic communications at the UAE foreign ministry, likewise reported that an agreement had been signed by firms in Israel and the UAE to develop research and technology to fight the virus.
Jordan and Egypt aside, Arab countries have no official relations with Israel.
But Arab states in the Gulf, including the UAE, have increasingly built informal ties with Israel in recent years amid shared concerns over Iran, which the Jewish state considers its arch-enemy.
“The stronger we are, the more powerful we are at deterring our enemies and bringing our friends closer,” Netanyahu said in his statement.
– ‘Contradiction’ –
The Israeli premier’s remarks came just days before the Jewish state intends to kick-start US-backed plans to annex settlements in the occupied West Bank and the Jordan Valley.
That plan has sparked the fury of the Palestinians and drawn international condemnation.
On Wednesday the United Nations, European and Arab powers warned Israel that the annexation plan would deal a major blow to peace.
Arab countries have repeatedly called for a settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a condition for normalising ties with the Jewish state.
Earlier this month, the Emirati ambassador to Washington warned that annexing parts of the West Bank would jeopardise any warming of Arab-Israeli relations.
“Annexation will certainly and immediately upend Israeli aspirations for improved security, economic and cultural ties with the Arab world and with the UAE,” Yousef al-Otaiba wrote in a rare op-ed by an Emirati official in Israel’s top-selling daily Yediot Aharonot.
“Recently, Israeli leaders have promoted excited talk about normalisation of relations with the United Arab Emirates and other Arab states.
“But Israeli plans for annexation and talk of normalisation are a contradiction,” Otaibi added in the op-ed.
Earlier this month, a flight undertaken by Etihad Airways — the UAE’s flag carrier — laden with Covid-19 related medical supplies for the Palestinians made a rare landing in Tel Aviv.
But the aid was refused by the Palestinians as the UAE had coordinated with Israel rather than with the Palestinian Authority.
Israel has confirmed more than 22,000 cases of coronavirus, including over 300 deaths, since reporting its first infection in February, and is now facing a new spike.
The UAE has officially reported more than 45,000 cases, including 302 deaths.