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How vaccine diplomacy is winning Israel new allies

Surplus jabs being handed over to up to 19 countries in effort to build international ties

Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu is sending his country’s spare Covid vaccines overseas in a bid to boost his government’s popularity.

With Israel storming ahead in the global race to inoculate populations against the coronavirus, the prime minister has begun providing “small amounts of surplus vaccine to several countries that have warming relations” with his administration, The Washington Post reports.

The Czech Republic, Honduras and Guatemala are among the countries that have received excess supplies, after having recently moved their embassies to the “contested” city of Jerusalem, the paper adds.

The Times reports that a total of up to 19 countries are expected to get Covid jabs from Israel, including Chad, the Maldives, Mauritania and two Muslim countries with which “Israel does not have diplomatic relations but is in contact”.

Israel “now has a surplus of about 100,000 Moderna vaccines which it does not plan to use on its own population” after signing a new deal to get more doses from Pfizer, the paper continues.

Aircraft from Honduras and Slovakia have reportedly already landed at an airport near Tel Aviv to collect deliveries of 5,000 doses each. The Slovak government is in Netanyahu’s good books after defending Israel against condemnation from within the EU over its settlement activities on the West Bank.

The Israeli government has not officially confirmed the deliveries, but said in a statement on Tuesday that “in light of the successful vaccination campaign in Israel”, it “has received many requests from the countries of the world to assist with the supply of vaccines”.

However, critics point out that while Israel is happy to hand out excess doses to its friends, Netanyahu’s government has rejected “any suggestions that it is obliged under international law to provide vaccines for the Palestinians that live under its occupation”, the Financial Times reports.

Israel has sent fewer than 5,000 doses to the Palestinian Authority for use on front-line medical workers, arguing that under the 1993 Oslo Accords, the governing body is responsible for vaccinating its own citizens. 

Some senior Israeli officials have also raised concerns about Netanyahu “making the decision personally” over which countries will receive supplies, says The Times. A number of members of his cabinet reportedly only “discovered the deliveries were taking place only when the aircraft had landed in Israel”.

Despite the criticisms about Netanyahu’s methods, the UK has worked closely with Israel throughout the country’s respective vaccine campaigns, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock maintaining regular contact with his Israeli counterpart, Yuli Edelstein.

Boris Johnson’s four-stage plan for ending lockdown closely mirrors Israel’s approach, while Michael Gove is studying the country’s use of “green passes” before a decision is made about the potential rollout of vaccine certificates in the UK.

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