Israel issued an apology to the United Arab Emirates on Thursday following the comments of a senior health official who blamed the surge in coronavirus cases on "deadly" flights to virus-hit Dubai.
Israel has recently seen an uptick in new COVID-19 cases despite the nationwide lockdown, which health experts say is due to foreign strains of the virus brought into the country by Israelis returning form vacations in Dubai.
Speaking to hospital directors on Thursday morning, Head of Public Health in the Health Ministry Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis said that "more people died in two weeks of peace with Dubai than in 70 years of war with them."
Emirati foreign officials later said that they wanted an explanation and the comments were uncalled for. As a result, Israeli officials apologized for Dr. Alroy-Preis' statement, saying it was merely "an unsuccessful joke," and that it does not reflect the position of the government of Israel.
The public health official was one of the most ardent supporters of limiting flights to and from the UAE and shutting down Ben Gurion Airport altogether.
The Gulf kingdom has become a tourist hotspot during the pandemic thanks to a lack of tight restrictions in the country, causing many officials in Israel to worry that returnees will bring the virus back with them.
An attempt was made last December to designate the UAE as a "red" country, but it was subsequently shut down by the Foreign Ministry, saying the decision could cause a diplomatic crisis.
Last month, when a flight returning from Dubai was found to have 14 confirmed carriers on it, Dr. Alroy-Preis publically slammed the government during a Knesset panel.
This week it was discovered that a man who returned from Dubai created an infection chain that included some 180 people.
Eventually, the Health Ministry decided to label every country as "red", which combined with a worrying rise in infection and the coronavirus varaints, led to the closure of Ben Gurion Airport and all land border crossings.