The Mossad brought China’s coronavirus vaccine to Israel in recent weeks in order to study and learn from it, Channel 12 reported on Monday.
Multiple government sources indirectly confirmed the report.
The report comes as countries and companies around the world race to develop a vaccine, with cyberattacks and espionage reported against a number of developers.
Israel is trying to reach agreements to purchase coronavirus vaccines from several other potential developers, according to a senior Health Ministry official who is in the know.
“There are several diplomatic efforts going on behind the scenes,” he told The Jerusalem Post in a private briefing. “We are trying everything we can to ensure Israeli citizens have access to a vaccine as soon as possible.”
However, it was unclear why the Mossad specifically was involved as opposed to the Foreign Ministry and the Health Ministry.
Both the Foreign Ministry and the Health Ministry either declined to comment or referred the issue to the Prime Minister’s Office.
The Prime Minister’s Office had not responded by press time.
One twist in the story is that from February until the end of May, Mossad Director Yossi Cohen led the country’s international efforts to acquire masks, testing kits, ventilators and other medical gear to combat the coronavirus.
Back in May, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went out of his way to publicly thank Cohen for leading the joint procurement command center, ahead of its transfer to the Health Ministry.
During his time leading the command center, Cohen was aggressive in purchasing massive quantities of medical supplies and personal protective equipment at a time when such supplies were scarce and there was stiff competition between countries to quickly buy up supplies before others could.
However, even as Netanyahu transferred Cohen’s authority to the Health Ministry, he said, “We do not know what the next day, or the next month, will bring. Since you have acquired the experience, remember it, we may need it again.”
Part of the premise of having the Mossad involved in the spring was that some purchases were made from the UAE and other Middle Eastern countries with whom Israel did not yet have diplomatic relations with.
The Mossad could then be deployed to quietly conduct trade and transportation issues under the radar.
In contrast, Israel has robust diplomatic relations with China which are usually run publicly by the Foreign Ministry.
While no officials would go on record, there were hints that the issue of purchasing a vaccine from China publicly could complicate matters with the US at a time when Washington and Beijing are in the midst of a trade war and verbal war which is now also tied deeply into the corona-crisis.
There are also concerns in general in the West about whether China’s vaccine is safe, since it has not undergone as extensive testing as demanded in some Western countries.
On the other hand, since the coronavirus originated in China, it was the first country hit and had a head-start on working toward a vaccine.
In addition, China has reportedly started widely distributing its vaccine to certain sectors of the population which may be dangerous for those sectors, but may allow it to work through various issues faster than in Western countries where large groups cannot be tested with vaccines until multiple rounds of smaller groups have been tested over time.
All of this could be an incentive to carry out the purchase quietly via the Mossad, though in that case it was surprising that the deal was leaked to the media.
At the same time, the Israel Institute for Biological Research on Sunday announced it will begin human trials next week on its coronavirus vaccine, Brilife. The vaccine has received all necessary approvals from the Health Ministry and the Helsinki Committee for medical experiments on humans.