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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.

Scoop: Stephanie Ruhle to replace Brian Williams on MSNBC

Photo: Nathan Congleton/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

MSNBC will soon announce plans to move morning anchor Stephanie Ruhle to the 11 pm ET hour that Brian Williams turned into an elite destination, two sources familiar with the move tell Axios.

Details: The 9 am ET hour, currently hosted by Ruhle, will become part of MSNBC's flagship morning show, "Morning Joe," which currently runs from 6 am to 9 am ET.

Oath Keepers leader denied bail on Capitol riot sedition charge

Oath Keepers co-founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes. Photo: Susan Walsh/AP

A federal judge ordered Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes to remain jailed Wednesday until trial on charges stemming from the Capitol riot.

Why it matters: The judge said the most prominent far-right figure charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection had access to weapons and his alleged "continued advocacy for violence against the federal government" gave credence to prosecutors' view that, if released, Rhodes could endanger others.