COVID-19: Israel sending vaccines to Mauritania, without diplomatic ties

Mauritania had previously established relations with Israel in 1992, which continued until March 2010, when the country cut ties after Operation Cast Lead.

A young boy is seen waving Mauritanian flags. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
A young boy is seen waving Mauritanian flags.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Mauritania is among the countries likely to receive COVID-19 vaccine aid from Israel even though the two countries don’t have formal diplomatic relations.
The Sunni-Muslim African state, a member of the Arab League, came close to reestablishing relations with Israel in recent months, but negotiations did not come to fruition before previous US president Donald Trump left office.
Mauritania previously established ties with Israel in 1992, which continued until March 2010 when the country cut relations after Operation Cast Lead.
“We’re sending vaccines to countries we have friendly relations with,” a senior official said, when asked if the vaccine aid was a sign Israel and Mauritania are on a path to normalization.
As many as 20 countries are expected to get between 1,000 and 5,000 coronavirus vaccine doses each from Israel. The list is not final, but may include Chad, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya, the Maldives, San Marino and Uganda, as well as the Palestinian Authority.
Notably, Israel is in talks to send doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to Cyprus, the Czech Republic and Hungary, which are in the EU. The Czech Republic said in a statement that it plans to send the vaccines to its armed forces.
Some of the countries on the list have recently moved or taken steps toward moving their embassies to Jerusalem. Guatemala has an embassy in the capital. The Czech Republic is expected to open a diplomatic office in Jerusalem next month, and Equatorial Guinea said last week that it would open an embassy in Jerusalem.
The Prime Minister’s Office announced on Tuesday that Israel would be donating vaccine doses to help medical teams in other countries.
“Israel does not manufacture vaccines... and does not expect to have a significant ability to help until Israel’s vaccination operation ends,” the office explained.
However, it added that “in the last month, a limited quantity of vaccines that were not being used accumulated, and therefore it was decided to help with a symbolic number of vaccines for medical staff of the Palestinian Authority and some countries that asked Israel.”
Since the vaccine aid plan was announced, more countries have approached the Prime Minister’s Office to get donated doses, a senior official said.
The countries will have to arrange the vaccine delivery themselves: Israel is not shipping them.
Anonymous senior health officials criticized the decision to Army Radio, saying that “with the current stock of vaccines, we should wait before sending the shipments.”
Coronavirus “czar” Prof. Nachman Ash told Ynet on Wednesday that “it is important to vaccinate all Israel’s citizens, and that is the first priority. I know the prime minister is making sure to bring more vaccines so there will be enough for everyone.... My advice was not sought” about sending vaccines abroad, “and this is not in my realm of responsibility.”
Netanyahu did not consult with Defense Minister Benny Gantz or Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi before making the decision. Gantz expressed his opposition, saying that donating vaccines could be justified only by an urgent security, diplomatic or medical need, and the prime minister has not presented one.
“The fact that Netanyahu is trading the vaccines that Israeli citizens paid for with their tax money, without any accountability, shows that he thinks he’s running a kingdom and not a country,” Gantz said.
As Israel began its vaccine rollout late last year, some activists and foreign media heaped criticism for not including the Palestinians, arguing that under international law, the Jewish state is the “occupying power” and must vaccinate them.
Israel, however, has pointed out that the internationally recognized Oslo Accords state that the PA is responsible for its population’s healthcare, including vaccinations.
Legal matters aside, the government has already sent thousands of doses of coronavirus vaccines to the PA and facilitated the import of Russian donations of the Sputnik V vaccines.
Last week, Netanyahu explained that Israel and the Palestinians are “in one epidemiological range.”
“We have a clear interest that we don’t want illnesses and sick people to pass through our borders from the Palestinian Authority and Gaza,” Netanyahu told Army Radio.
The government asked the (Jerusalem) Wakf Islamic religious trust, which is responsible for daily operations on the Temple Mount, for permission to open a vaccination stand by the holy site, where social distancing rules have not been strictly observed, KAN reported, but was turned down.
Health officials are especially concerned about crowding during Ramadan, which is due to begin on April 12 this year. Israeli officials reportedly even asked PA President Mahmoud Abbas to intervene, but were rebuffed.