Reports by different parties confirmed an unprecedented Israeli prisoner swap including unannounced number of Covid vaccines for Syrians.
When reports about crossing Israeli border with Syria by a 23-year-old woman were published in early February, no one would foresee how the probe could find relevance with covid-19 vaccines. The footprint of Russia in the agreement between the longstanding woes makes it more believable.
Israeli Officials say the woman, who was arrested for illegally crossing the border, was swapped in return for two Syrian shepherds. Israel ratified the terms of agreement in government cabinet last Tuesday, an act seemingly to evade the media focus from the main deal.
Behind the scene, Israel accepted a deal according to which Israel finances millions of doses of Russian Covid-19 vaccines were financed for Syrians. The deal is expected to be worth between 1 to 1.2 million dollars. Other sources reported that the deal was for millions of dollars. New York Times affiliates assert that nearly half of Syria’s 9,2-milion population will be able to receive one dose of the vaccines.
The deal was struck by the mediation of Russia. Moscow has close ties with Damascus and kept diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv on a stable level. Providing vaccines to the crisis-stricken Syria, which is strategically supported by Moscow, while selling millions of doses of Sputnik V vaccines is a full-benefit deal for Russia.
Israeli Officials refused to comment on the inclusion of vaccines in the deal. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who will be facing another round of election in the coming months, tried to assess the deal for his own benefit. Boasting close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Netanyahu said “We brought back the woman. I’m happy we did this. I thank President Putin that we did this.”
Mr. Netanyahu, however, rejected the reports about vaccines saying that “not one Israeli vaccine” was arranged to be delivered to Syria. He, nevertheless, avoided to rule out paying Russia for the vaccines. By the way, there has been no confirmed “Israeli vaccines” for Covfid-19 yet.
Netanyahu said in an interview that further details about the deal would not be released on Russia’s request. Considering the detail leaked to media about accepting a multi-million-dollar deal in return for a woman, it seems Netanyahu is the party who doesn’t want the details to be disclosed.
As Yoav Limor, an Israel military affairs correspondent, says, “It is legitimate for the Israeli government to decide to deviate from past norms and to pay with another form of currency.” What seems more queer, to Limor, is that “the decision to hide that is baffling and worrisome. Obviously, someone was very uncomfortable with having that matter come to light.”
Richard Silverstein, a freelance blogger, was the first one to disclose the inclusion of Russian vaccines in the deal.
The deal could be hailed as a victory by Syria which has been a target of Israeli strikes during the past months. Israel’s intervention in Syria is claimed to be attempts for preventing consolidation of Iranian presence in the northern borders.
The two countries are technically and practically at war since 1967 when Israel annexed large parts of Golan Heights in a six-day war. The annexation is still disputed by international community.
The deal also led to objections by Palestinians who believe Israel is obliged to provide vaccine for them. Israel, as the country with the highest rate of vaccine distribution worldwide, has provided a few thousand doses of vaccines for people in occupied lands. Rights campaigners refer to Geneva convention according to which occupiers are responsible for the health condition of the inhabitants and are obliged to cooperate with local authorities to prevent any sort of hazards threatening the lives of people.