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Israeli travelers arrive in Dubai. Photo: Karim Sahib/AFP via Getty Images

A remark by Israel’s chief epidemiologist suggesting the opening of direct flights from Dubai to Tel Aviv had led to COVID-19 deaths in Israel resulted in diplomatic protests from the UAE, Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: Direct flights were one of the main fruits of the Israel-UAE peace treaty, and around 130,000 Israeli tourists have taken advantage by flying to Dubai since December.

Israel’s chief epidemiologist, Sharon Alroy-Preis, remarked in a Zoom briefing to hospital directors earlier this week that “more Israelis died in two weeks of peace with Dubai than in 70 years of war with Dubai."

  • She was essentially criticizing the Israeli government, which opted against halting flights even when many Israelis tested positive after returning from Dubai.
  • Her remarks were published by Israel's Channel 13 and later reached Abu Dhabi.

Emirati officials interpreted them as an accusation that the UAE was responsible for Israel's high infection rate and called the prime minister's office to protest, Israeli officials tell me.

  • They expressed surprise that such a senior Israeli health official would speak in such terms.
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s advisers apologized for the remarks and stressed that Israel doesn’t hold the UAE responsible in any way for the rise in cases and deaths.

The big picture: The Israeli Ministry of Health wanted to halt flights from Dubai several weeks ago but was overruled by Netanyahu's office and the Foreign Ministry, which were concerned such a step would damage the new relationship with the UAE.

  • Eventually, all flights to Israel were stopped, including from Dubai.
  • According to Israeli Ministry of Health assessments, more than 900 Israelis who traveled to Dubai subsequently tested positive, infecting an estimated 4,000 contacts in Israel.

Go deeper

Jan 28, 2021 - World

Biden turns the page on Trump's Israel-Palestine policies

Biden with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2010. Photo: David Furst/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration laid out its Israel-Palestine policy at the UN Security Council on Tuesday, highlighting the importance of repairing ties with the Palestinian Authority.

Driving the news: According to the new policies, the U.S. will resume aid to the Palestinians and reopen the PLO office in Washington and the consulate in Jerusalem.

Updated 37 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Bipartisan police reform negotiations end without deal

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) with Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) in the Capitol in May 2021. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Bipartisan talks on reforming police tactics and accountability, prompted by George Floyd's murder in May 2020, have ended without a compromise, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a key negotiator, said Wednesday.

Why it matters: Lawmakers, led by Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Booker, had been working toward a bipartisan deal for months but things fell apart due to disagreements on qualified immunity and other issues.

Federal Reserve scales back expectations for economic recovery as Delta variant weighs

Fed chair Jerome Powell during a congressional hearing last year. (Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The Fed downgraded near-term expectations for the economy and the labor market, alongside hotter-than-expected inflation, in new estimates out on Wednesday.

Why it matters: It's the first time those closely-watched estimates reflect impact from the delta variant that's already rattled the labor market. Still, Fed chairman Jerome Powell said enough progress has been made to begin to pull back emergency-era measures that have supported the economy.