Israeli, UAE Tech Firms Pen Deal on Virus Research

A technician carries out a diagnostic test for coronavirus in a lab at the Rambam Hospital in Haifa. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

A state-linked technology company in the United Arab Emirates has signed a partnership with two major Israeli defense firms to research ways of combating the coronavirus pandemic.

The agreement, announced late Thursday, comes just weeks after the UAE warned Israel that proceeding with its planned annexation of parts of Yehudah and Shomron would upend its efforts to improve ties with Arab states.

G42, an Abu Dhabi-based company specializing in artificial intelligence and cloud computing, signed a memorandum of understanding with Rafael and Israel Aerospace Industries, the UAE’s state-run WAM news agency reported. It said executives held a signing ceremony by video link between the two countries, which do not have diplomatic relations.

Rafael and IAI’s Elta subsidiary confirmed the agreement. Elta, which specializes in sensors, radars, electronic warfare and communication systems, said they would cooperate on research and technology focused on artificial intelligence, sensors and lasers.

They said the collaboration would not only benefit the two countries, but the entire world as it grapples with the pandemic.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had announced an agreement with the UAE a week ago, without providing specifics.

Only two Arab countries, Jordan and Egypt, have made peace with Israel, with the rest saying it must first resolve the conflict with the Palestinians. But Israel has quietly improved ties with Gulf countries in recent years, in part because of their shared concerns about Iran.

In recent weeks, senior UAE officials have warned that annexation would jeopardize those improved ties, but have also suggested that the two countries could set aside their political disputes to collaborate on humanitarian and other projects.

Group 42, also known as G42, is led by CEO Peng Xiao. He previously ran Pegasus, a subsidiary of DarkMatter, a cybersecurity firm based in the UAE that has recruited Western intelligence agents.

Since late 2016, Dubai police have partnered with Pegasus to use its “big data” application to pool hours of surveillance video to track anyone in the emirate. DarkMatter’s hiring of former CIA and National Security Agency analysts has raised concerns, especially as the UAE has harassed and imprisoned human rights activists.

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