Netanyahu Trafficking in COVID-19 Vaccines for Diplomatic Support

Israel’s far-right Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is offering COVID-19 vaccines to various countries in return for their diplomatic backing, the Kan public broadcaster reported on Tuesday, February 23, citing a source familiar with these developments.

According to the report, a plane from Honduras was to take delivery of a shipment later that same day. The Central American nation has announced its intention to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Guatemala, which already moved its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem in 2018, has also expressed interest in receiving vaccines from Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the tarmac at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport to meet the first batch of Pfizer vaccines to arrive in Israel, December 9, 2020

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the tarmac at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport to meet the first batch of Pfizer vaccines to arrive in Israel, December 9, 2020 (Photo: GPO)

“The fact that Netanyahu is trafficking [in] the vaccines of Israeli citizens, which were paid for with their tax money, without accountability, shows that he thinks he’s running a monarchy, not a state,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz tweeted, adding, “such a process requires discussion and approval. Only a security, diplomatic, or urgent medical need could justify such a process and Netanyahu must present this before the public or, at the very least, have it approved by the relevant forums.”

The reports on Netanyahu’s hopes to use coronavirus vaccines to help diplomatic relations come after Israel was said to have agreed to purchase an unknown number of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine doses for use in Syria as part of a deal for the return of an Israeli woman who was held by the Syrian army after she crossed the border two weeks ago. The woman, who hasn’t been identified, is reportedly a 25-year-old from Modiin Illit who left the ultra-Orthodox community. It is unclear why she entered Syria.

Last month, Israel delivered only 5,000 COVID-19 vaccines to the West Bank for healthcare workers, following a recommendation from the Defense Ministry and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Occupied Territories (COGAT). Around two weeks ago, the Palestinian Authority submitted a request to Israel asking that it send one thousand Sputnik V vaccines developed in Russia to medical teams in Gaza, from the tens of thousands of vaccines expected to reach the West Bank. Israel has still not made a decision regarding the request.

According Zo Haderech, the Hebrew-language website of the Communist Party of Israel (CPI): “Israel, the West Bank and Gaza are considered a single bloc epidemiologically and, as the controlling force of the Palestinians and their fate, Israel is obligated by international law to send vaccines to the Palestinian Authority and all Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Giving them vaccines is not an act of goodwill, but rather an obligation.”

Israel has already inoculated more than 4.4 million people (48% of its citizens), with 110,000 persons receiving a jab on Monday of this week, while more than 3 million people (33% of its population) having already received the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.