The Israeli government reportedly used vaccines against covid-19 as a bargaining chip to secure the release of a young woman who was being held in Syria. The agreement between the two enemies was made thanks to the mediation of Russia, which is said to have received around one million euros from Israel to supply its Syrian Sputnik V vaccine.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for his help in freeing the 25-year-old woman, who the media say will have crossed the border into Syria in the Golan Heights. “I asked for his help and he acted,” said Netanyahu, calling Putin “my friend”.
In a statement, the prime minister’s office said the young woman was already on her way home, having been sent from Syria to Russia, before returning to Israel. But his release was presented as an exchange of prisoners, with the return of two Syrian pastors who would also have illegally crossed the border.
In reality, the agreement involves the purchase of an undisclosed number of Russian vaccines, which will be delivered by Moscow to the Bashar al-Assad regime. Israel has already vaccinated with a dose of the Pfizer vaccine over 45% of its nine million inhabitants, and Syria has not yet started the vaccination campaign against covid-19. Responding to news that he had bought Russian vaccines for Syrians, Netanyahu merely replied that “not one dose of Israeli vaccines has been used”.
The secret deal is being criticized, not only for turning vaccines into a bargaining chip – and there are unconfirmed reports that Netanyahu may be considering using this method to improve relations with Arab countries – but also because there are no guarantees as to how the vaccine will be distributed in Syria.
Furthermore, it draws further attention to the fact that Israel is not willing to supply vaccines to the Palestinians under its control, but is giving them to an enemy country. Israel allowed the Palestinian Authority to send two thousand doses of vaccine to the Gaza Strip (which it keeps under lock) and transferred five thousand vaccines to health officials in the occupied West Bank, but nothing more.
There is still criticism because Israeli censors initially blocked reports on the use of vaccines as a bargaining chip, only lifting restrictions after international media reported the case.
Netanyahu, who faces a corruption trial, counts on the success of the vaccination campaign as an argument in the campaign for next month’s legislative elections. This Sunday, the country took another step in the lack of definition, with the opening of street commerce, open-air markets, shopping centers, libraries and museums. Schools have also started to reopen.