H.E. Yahel Vilan, Ambassador of Israel to Serbia: Israel is a true startup nation in every aspect

We started the “Back to Life” campaign late December with a vision to go back to life by Passover which was in early April and we succeeded

H.E. Yahel Vilan, Ambassador of Israel to Serbia

Israel is a successful country in many areas, and it is also a leader in the fight against the corona virus. Serbia and Israel next year celebrate 30 years since reestablishment of diplomatic relations. What can we learn from the successful Israeli example we talked to the Ambassador of Israel to Serbia H.E. Yahel Vilan.

Mass vaccination in Israel, i.e. the fastest in the world, began on December 19. How did Israel manage to obtain large quantities of vaccines and vaccinate the population incomparably faster than other countries?

Well, I think there were few major factors for Israel’s success story and most of all it was a good combination between quick government decisions on putting all its efforts on the vaccination campaign and some of Israel’s structural long lasting strengths, such as its strong Public Health System, Emergency Preparedness, Innovation and Data Sharing, its Advanced Medical System and maybe above all, the Logistics Operation which was very much based on all those other strengths.

PM Netanyahu took a strong personal role in persuading Pfizer to turn Israel into its main research lab in order to prove that the vaccine can work. Pfizer did that due to all those other factors which Israel is famous for: Universal healthcare system which  is globally recognized for its efficiency and effectiveness. In Israel, all citizens are guaranteed healthcare under the country’s National Health Insurance Law. We can choose from 4 comprehensive not-for-profit health plans that provide a standardized basket of medical services, and each provider must accept all residents regardless of age or state of health.

Combined, there are thousands of clinics spread across the country, ensuring that each and every local community is served. It was these clinics who made that operation so successful and efficient, reaching a pick of over 100,000 vaccinations daily. Moreover, its national healthcare services enjoy a uniquely advanced level of digitization, which allowed very easy and quick access to every Israeli, by age criteria, occupation and so on, which again, made the whole operation very efficient and effective.

“The economic cooperation between Serbia and Israel has upward development trend

Another key factor was the fact that from obvious reasons, Israel is very ready for emergencies and therefore could shift very quickly from routine to emergency. It helped at the beginning of pandemic, allowing us to turn hospitals  into fully Corona hospitals, to turn hospitals parking lots into Corona Units and to practically create in few weeks thousands of new emergency care beds and ventilation machines almost from scratch.

All of this played a very significant role also in the vaccination operation. One good example is the role of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), which mobilized its technologic as well as logistics capabilities into the national efforts: assisting in administrating quarantine hotels and supplying food to families in lockdown at the peak of  pandemic, and now dedicating its own paramedics and military reserves to the vaccination push.

Sharing Electronic Patient Records, while keeping full medical confidence also played a crucial role in the effectiveness of the vaccination campaign making it both very quick and very efficient not losing even one drop of vaccines. The Washington Post found this as the key, saying: “ Israel moves to head of vaccines queue, offering Pfizer access to the country’s healthcare database”.

And then was the amazing logistic operation, handling the vaccines from arrival by air, keeping them in -70 degrees and spreading them all over the country, in the most efficient way.

All of these together made Israel’s vaccination campaign to such a huge worldwide success. We started the Back to Life campaign late December with a vision to go back to life by Passover which was in early April and we succeeded.

After vaccination, Israel’s economy was the first to open up. What can we learn from the Israeli experience?

The main lesson is first and foremost that the vaccine is working. According to the results in Israel it has way over 90% success rate, reaching over 80% even after the first dose only. On the other hand, there is almost no risk in taking the vaccine. All pandemic factors in Israel had dropped dramatically in parallel to the vaccination campaign and in the last few weeks the number of new cases is less than a few hundred a day, and same with the numbers of severe cases and number of deaths, all dramatically dropped.

As of now, all working places, schools, shopping malls, restaurants and so on are back to normal, for the first time in 14 months and no doubt the impact on the economy is huge. The overall cost of the vaccines was around 800,000 million $, which is equivalent to less than 2 working days of the Israeli market. Not to mention all other costs to the health system of every day of the pandemic.  So, even from a pure economic aspect, it’s definitely the best expenditure every government can think of. And of course, the significance of going really back to life, is by far wider than just the economic factors.

Israel produces almost 70% of all its food requirements

So, what’s the lesson, Serbia and all other countries should learn from us? That the vaccine is working and its working great and at this point when so many parts of the world are still deeply in the pandemic, having the vaccines available this is a huge privilege, that one should not take for granted and definitely should not avoid taking them. This is why I’m urging the Serbian public to use that opportunity and go get vaccinated as this is for now the only way out and back to our normal life which we are all missing badly.

Israeli company one of the leaders in Serbia when it comes to renewable energy sources (RES). On April 22nd, you will open our conference dedicated to the topic of Green Economy. How can Serbia become “greener” and how can we increase investments in the green economy?

I’m very proud that an Israeli company is contributing to Serbia’s green agenda and reaching targets in energy coming from renewable sources, especially wind which seems as the most developed. Based on their positive experience with investment climate, Enlight Energy is expanding its presence through new wind farm Pupin for which they recently got a permit to start construction. I was thrilled to pay a visit to their initial investment, windfarm Kovačica, together with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Energy and Mining, PhD Zorana Mihajlović.

Serbia has now set of new energy laws, which for sure will contribute to reaching the target the Minister stated and that is 40% of electricity coming from renewable sources by 2040. New legal framework with a special Law on Renewable Energy will allow smoother and faster diversification within renewable sources and introduction and popularization of less used such as solar and geothermal in which Israel has an extensive know how and technology. It will also allow citizens to become producers and consumers of energy which is paving a way for efficient and smarter use of energy wherein an individual can realize how much it contributes to the grid and what it consumes.

Israel is known as a start-up nation in all segments. One of the segments that we can copy from Israel is irrigation technology. Are there any companies that are interested in entering that sector in Serbia?

Israel is a true startup nation in every aspect. From the foundation of our country we had to develop/invent technologies in order to overcome and mitigate unfavourable natural conditions. As you know Israel has limited arable land, almost 60% of the country is desert, limited water sources and almost no natural resources except natural gas that has been discovered in the last decade. In this regards we have been pioneers and invented drip irrigation, later became a leader in irrigation technologies. According to the latest data, Israel irrigates round 33% of total agriculture land. Israel has round 435 000 ha of agriculture land.

Israel produces almost 70% of all its food requirements. It imports much of its grain, oilseeds, meat and fish, and its the sugar, coffee and cocoa. We already have present Netafim through their representative Avital Agro with numerous successful irrigation projects in Serbia. It’s a global leader and inventor of drip irrigation. Beside, NaanDanJain is also active and intends to expand its presence.

What is the overall economic cooperation between our two countries liked and where do you see room for progress?

In general, the economic cooperation between our two countries is good and has a positive and upward development trend. However, there are challenges and room for improvement in creating more favorable environment for businesses. At the moment we don’t have a Free Trade Agreement between Israel and Serbia while both countries have it with the EU. This makes goods from both countries less competitive and presents a burden to increase our trade volume which now stands at 82 million USD annually. We hope to see some developments in this regards in the future.

Secondly, we would like to hold a first sitting of a Joint Committee for Economic and Trade Cooperation which has been set up following President Rivlin’s visit in 2018. Due to an ongoing elections in Israel it took some time to have a Co Chairman’s from both countries nominated. As this is not an issue anymore, it is our intention to have this first sitting in the near future.

Regarding the sectors of economy where we see potential to be utilized more are: renewable energy – especially solar which is opening up now, water treatment technologies, R&D offices of tech companies and inflow of Israeli VCs in the market along with cyber security and defense industry.

What is the political and economic significance of the opening of the Serbian government office in Jerusalem?

The opening of the Office of the Government in Jerusalem has political and economic importance. It is perceived as the initial step towards moving the embassy to Jerusalem. On the other hand it sends a message that economic cooperation is the main focus of our bilateral relations and an area in which Serbia would like to see improvement  and will put efforts in the coming period.

It was mentioned that the Office will concentrate on cooperation in sector of innovation and innovative economy. This includes wide spectrum of hi tech and cyber and presents a great opportunity for both countries.

Israel as a startup nation is one of the countries Serbia chose as a model to develop its innovation ecosystem. We have had numerous Israeli speakers at various events, conferences, bilateral visits and similar. Initial contacts between the two tech communities have been created. What we would like to see in the future are concrete joint ventures, joint projects, business deals between the two communities. The Office will definitely assist in putting Serbia on the map of Israeli techies and other businesses and we welcome our future cooperation in this mission of advancement of our economic ties.

What do you think will be the biggest challenges in 2021?

Unfortunately even though everything we’ve seen with the vaccines in Israel, we still see what is going on all over the world with the Covid pandemic, so no doubt that this will still be our biggest challenge for this year and most probably also next year in big parts of our universe and for sure on all those fields which based on trafficking of people and goods around the world: Tourism first and foremost but also foreign trade in general. On the other hand, I do hope for the longer term, we will all understand we should increase the cooperation between countries and continents as the only way, not only out of this challenge but also in facing and hopefully preventing the next ones.

I do hope, both Israel with its proven achievements in public health and innovation and Serbia with its growing part in the production of vaccines, will play an active role in facing those challenges in the coming years and I also hope we will be able to strengthen our bilateral cooperation in this endeavour.

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