02/23/2021, 10.11
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Vaccine diplomacy between Israel and Syria (via Moscow)

The Israeli government has obtained the release of a young Orthodox who entered Syrian territory on February 2. Official reports speak of an exchange of prisoners. In fact, behind the release is the supply of 1.2 million doses of Sputnik V to Damascus. A success for Netanyahu, Assad and (above all) Putin.

Damascus (AsiaNews / Agencies) - "A crazy story at any levels," is one online comment that lends itself particularly well to describing what has happened in recent days in the triangle that saw Israel and Syria as protagonists (two enemy states without diplomatic relations), with the mediation of Russia.

An exchange of prisoners was accompanied by an agreement for the supply of vaccines against Covid-19, which are oincreasinly takoing on the form of  "a political-commercial weapon and diplomatic pickpocketing" during the pandemic emergency.

The story begins on February 2 when a 23-year-old Israeli woman crosses the border with Syria, without being discovered by the security forces present at the border. Shortly after her entry into the Arab country, the young Orthodox is discovered and arrested, then taken to prison. Unlike in the past, the negotiations are started a few hours after the arrest by the Israeli security services, mindful of other events of the past that have dragged on over time such as that of the young Avera Mengistu detained in Gaza after his illegal entry in the 2014.

The protagonists of the negotiations are the respective leaders of the players in the field: Benjamin Netanyahu for Israel, Bashar al-Assad for Syria and Vladimir Putin on the Russian side. To obtain the civilian's release, the Israeli government agreed to finance the purchase of a massive supply of Sputnik V coronavirus vaccines worth $ 1.2 million in Damascus, paid into Moscow's coffers.

Once the agreement was concluded, the gears of diplomacy moved, leading to the release of the 23-year-old, who returned to her country of origin on February 19 after spending just over two weeks in Syrian hands. At the same time, Israel canceled the sentence of a Druze residing in the Golan Heights (disputed) and welcomed the return of two Syrian shepherds to their country of origin.

Official news only reported on the prisoner exchange, but a report by an investigative journalist published by the New York Times and Hareetz also revealed the other side of the coin: vaccine diplomacy, increasingly used as a "bargaining chip".

From a technical point of view, this operation between two unrelated nations was possible thanks to the mediation of a third government, on good terms with both sides. It represents a regional success for the Kremlin and Russian President Putin, in a phase of progressive disengagement of the United States in the Middle Eastern chessboard. Asked by L’Orient-Le Jour (LOJ) Nicholas Heras, researcher at the Institute for the Study of War (Isw), stresses that "Russia emerges as victor, also guaranteeing a political victory for Netanyahu. And it also wins by strengthening its influence on the Assad regime and providing him with the vaccines he needs ”. "This is an agreement - he adds - successful on all fronts for Moscow".

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