Half Arab Gulf States Reach out to Israel for Help with Pandemic

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Patrick Castillo/Emarat Al Youm via AP

TEL AVIV  – Three Arab Gulf states have reached out to Israel for help in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, a representative from Israel’s leading hospital said Sunday.

The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and a third, unnamed country have been in regular contact with the the Sheba Medical Center, Yoel Hareven, who heads the hospital’s international division, said. Bahrain and the UAE were already in touch with the hospital before the outbreak.

In March, a senior member of the Emirati royal family came on a private visit to the hospital.

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

The third country, likely Kuwait, has asked for help installing a telemedicine system to treat COVID-19 patients remotely.

According to Hareven, the contract will likely end in future cooperation between the two countries on a governmental level. Arab Gulf states recognize Israel’s innovation prowess, especially in the health sector, and are even beginning to acknowledged it publicly, Hareven said.

“You open a small crack and the foot enters the door, and later the whole body and then the head come in,” he said. “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.”

“How do we take this one step forward [to the establishment of diplomatic ties]? That’s for the politicians and diplomats to decide. We’re enablers who provide the platform for this process.”

Rabbi Marc Schneier, who helped establish the connection between Sheba and the Bahraini government, said that three of the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council are now engaged with Israel’s health system.

“That’s 50 percent representation in the Gulf. That is a very significant development,” he said in a telephone interview with The Times of Israel.

“Throughout the pandemic I have been in contact with all my friends in the Gulf, members of the royal families, ambassadors and so on. They 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 told the paper.

Last week, the Emirati ambassador to the United Nations in New York, Lana Nusseibeh, would not confirm any joint Israel-UAE cooperation but said it shouldn’t be off the table.

“I’m sure there is a lot of scope for cooperation. I don’t think we would be opposed to it, because I really think the public health space should be an unpoliticized space, where we all try and pool our knowledge of this virus,” she said at an online conference hosted by the American Jewish Committee.

The fight against the pandemic “should not have any borders or boundaries.”

She noted workshops held in the past between Israeli medical professionals’ and their Emirati. She also hailed an Israeli lab for its “breakthrough” in finding an antibody for the coronavirus.  “That is very exciting for all of us… because we are also working on similar therapeutics, so there is potentially room for cooperation there.”



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