Israel has frozen its programme to send COVID-19 vaccines abroad to buy international goodwill, Defence Minister Benny Gantz said on Thursday, after the initiative came under legal scrutiny.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under fire for donating COVID-19 vaccines to foreign allies, while Palestinians complained that, as an occupying power, Israel should be supplying more to them.
Israeli public broadcaster Kan, which earlier this week reported that Israel would send small shipments to 19 countries, said Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit was seeking clarification about the programme.
An official in Netanyahu’s office said that after legal questions were raised, Netanyahu’s national security adviser had asked Mandelblit to give his opinion.
“I welcome the decision to freeze the transfer of vaccines to other countries,” Gantz said on Twitter. Gantz is serving in Netanyahu’s government while preparing to face off against him in an election next month.
Netanyahu earlier this week defended what has been referred to as “vaccine diplomacy,” saying Israel had “unused” Moderna vaccines left over.
“I think it buys goodwill,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “I think it is an intelligent decision … in return for many dividends that we have already received, in many ongoing contacts in many different fields that I will not elaborate about here.”
Israel has had one of the world’s fastest rollouts of COVID-19 vaccines, with nearly half the population already having received one dose.
But centrist former general Gantz said a decision to give away vaccines must be made in the “proper forums” and it was not up to Netanyahu to take such action on his own.