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COVID creates opportunity for relations between Israel, Arab states

COVID-19 has made for some unlikely cooperation between Israel and Arab countries that have previously been antagonistic toward the Jewish state.

According to media reports, three Gulf states have been actively seeking the expertise and technological advice of Israeli medical professionals regarding the latest pandemic.

Yoel Hareven, head of the Sheba Medical Center international division, said the three countries — including Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates — have been in contact with his hospital since before the coronavirus crisis. And in March, a high-ranking member of the Emirati royal family even visited the hospital in Ramat Gan, he said.

This is trend here in the Middle East. Natural enemies with Israel are beginning to see that they have more to gain from friendship with Israel, then from being her enemy.

“There is a growing readiness to interact with us, even openly, in the health sphere,” he said. “These things happen slowly, but they happen, maybe not at the [inter-governmental] level as we would have liked, but things are happening.”

Hareven would not name the third country which does not have ties with Israel, but he said the country requested help installing telemedicine solutions to treat COVID-19 patients remotely, a specialty at Sheba.

“It’s indeed the beginning of a very fascinating journey — for the entire Israeli public, not only for the medical field or Sheba Medical Center,” he said.

A rabbi with extensive contact with Gulf state leaders established the connection between the Israeli hospital and Bahrain. Marc Schneier said his contacts there “continue to express a desire to cooperate and work with Israel, particularly when it comes to the health industry.”

“I’ve heard this repeatedly from my friends in the Gulf: COVID-19 is a real opportunity for joint cooperation,” he said.

Lana Nusseibeh, Emirati ambassador to the United Nations in New York, said the fight against the pandemic “should not have any borders or boundaries.”

“The public health space should be an un-politicized space, where we all try and pool our knowledge of this virus,” she told the American Jewish Committee.

In another sign of coronavirus serving to help thaw ties between Israel and Gulf state, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker confirmed that Israeli medical professionals are included in the airline’s perks for medical workers — even though Israel does not appear on its maps.

“Every single country in the world, including our neighboring countries, including the State of Israel, will be allocated numbers of tickets, depending on population and the size of the country… proportionately to the 100,000 tickets we are offering,” he said. “There is no difference, no barrier in medical fields. There are no boundaries.”

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