The COVID-19 global pandemic has infected more than 21 million people and killed more than 75,000. But did coronavirus help heal the Middle East?
“The Gulf and Israel have been working together to combat COVID-19, and if they continue to do so, they could be the region that finds the cure to benefit people around the world,” wrote Rabbi Marc Schneier only days before the announcement Thursday that Israel and the United Arab Emirates had agreed to full normalization of relations.
According to Schneier – an American rabbi and president of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding through which he has spent much time in the Gulf states, including in closed-door and strategic meetings with top officials – the last few months have brought with them “natural partnerships between Israel and its Gulf neighbors” as they each try to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus and reduce its tragic impact on their economies and citizens.
Schneier said that he has an expression: no tension, no deal – meaning that to make any deal in life there needs to be tension beforehand.
Already, before the virus, the Gulf states and Israel were both struggling with the ongoing existential threat created by the Iranian terror regime.
But in the last eight months, two new tensions came to the surface. The first is the tension over the controversy of annexation, which was brought about at the end of January through the historic “Deal of the Century” plan presented by US President Donald Trump.
A month later, the COVID-19 plague started infecting the world
Schneier said the Gulf states became “deeply concerned about the disruptive impact of COVID-19 on their own societies – including the economic damage they have incurred by the crash in the global price of oil.” He said that “COVID-19 is a real threat to both the Gulf and Israel, and this has really brought about this historic declaration.”
Throughout the pandemic, Schneier would be in contact with his friends in the Gulf, members of the royal families and ambassadors. He said that they would express a desire to cooperate and work with Israel, particularly with the Jewish state’s hospitals and health network.
“I’ve heard this repeatedly from my friends in the Gulf: COVID-19 is a real opportunity for joint cooperation,” Schneier said.
The Reuters news agency reported on Thursday that the UAE and Israel will step up their collaboration on a coronavirus vaccine as part of the Abraham Accords. The joint statement reads that “the United Arab Emirates and Israel will immediately expand and accelerate cooperation regarding the treatment of, and the development of a vaccine for, the coronavirus. Working together, these efforts will help save Muslim, Jewish and Christian lives throughout the region.”
Just a couple of months ago, The Jerusalem Post reported that at least two states in the Arab Gulf, the UAE and Bahrain, were actively cooperating with Sheba Medical Center even before the pandemic. Then, in March, a high-ranking member of the Emirati royal family privately visited the hospital in Ramat Gan and has since remained in regular contact.
In addition, Sheba helped install a telemedicine solution to treat COVID-19 patients for a third Gulf country, which the hospital never named but sources said was likely Kuwait.
Recall that in June 2019, Sheba’s director-general Prof. Yitshak Kreiss attended the “Peace for Prosperity” workshop in Bahrain and shared pictures on Facebook of his visit with Bahrain’s former Ambassador to the United States, Houda Nonoo. According to the post, “they discussed how healthcare and medical innovation can spur economic growth for the Middle East and Gulf regions.”
Moreover, in May, the UAE delivered humanitarian, including tons of medical supplies, personal protective equipment, and ventilators, for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by flying it direct from Abu Dhabi to Israel. It was a historic moment when the Etihad Airlines flight landed on the tarmac at Ben-Gurion Airport.
At the time, some Palestinian Authority officials and political activists accused the UAE of “promoting normalization” with Israel by allowing the plane to land at the airport. In contrast, the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted that, “This virus demands collective action on an unprecedented scale – we cannot allow politics to undermine global health security at such a critical moment.”
Collaborating with Middle Eastern countries in the battle against corona is logical, as Israel and its neighbors share a common climate and culture. Furthermore, Schneier said, many decision makers in the Gulf understand that normalization of ties would allow wealthy Arab countries to marry their economic wherewithal with Israel’s brain trust.
He believes that Bahrain will attempt to move forward with a peace deal next, and that others may follow, too.
Schneier said: “In my discussions with top government leaders in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait, I have repeatedly heard leaders express variations on the following statement, ‘Rabbi, with our resources and wealth and Israel’s brain trust and technological prowess and innovation, we can create a vaccine and a cure.’”
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