Battling corona: Defense Minister authorizes call-up of 2,000 reservists

Israeli army to call up 2,000 reservists to help the country deal with the coronavirus crisis.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett signed an order Sunday authorizing the Israeli Army to call up 2,000 reservists to help the country deal with the coronavirus crisis, Ynet news reported.

The Army has been mobilizing reserve soldiers who are part of the Homefront Command, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) unit assigned for protecting civilian areas. The troops will be used to bolster the Magen David Adom national ambulance service, assist municipalities and help answer the tens of thousands of questions called in by worried Israelis on a daily basis.

The Homefront Command helps to “guide the public in preparation and behavior in time of emergency” by training Israel’s civilian population to be prepared for calamities ranging from rocket attacks to earthquakes.

The unit has an international reputation for its search and rescue brigade that responded to natural disasters, providing rescue and medical assistance in the wake of major earthquakes in Haiti, Turkey and Nepal.

Bennett is scheduled to hold a briefing later Sunday with defense ministry officials including the head of the National Emergency Authority, the IDF’s Deputy Chief of Staff, the commander of the Home Front Command and the Coordinator of Operations in the Occupied Territories, where Israel has been working with the Palestinian Authority to help contain a coronavirus outbreak in Bethlehem.

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Israel’s armed forces are not immune, with some soldiers confirmed to have the coronavirus and others in mandatory isolation after being exposed to a virus carrier. The army cautioned that in order to stop the spread of the virus, soldiers should be prepared to be confined to their bases for up to a month.

Earlier this month the IDF canceled its biannual Juniper-Cobra military exercise with the U.S. military’s European Command (EUCOM), two days after it began. Some 600 U.S. troops were to be in Israel while another 2,000 other U.S. personnel provided support from bases in Germany and America.

In February the Eagle Genesis exercise with 300 members of U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade was also canceled “as a precautionary measure in light of the COVID 19” virus, a EUCOM statement said, adding: “We value our strong partnership with Israel and look forward to continuing our training together in the future.”

As of Sunday there were 200 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Israel, with tens of thousands of Israelis under mandatory two-week home quarantine having been in the vicinity of a known carrier. To date there have been no fatalities in Israel associated with the virus.

A health ministry official said the country was reaching the capacity to perform 2,000 coronavirus tests a day, Times of Israel reported. The ministry’s director of international relations, Asher Shalmon, said although the education system was closed down and shopping malls, restaurants and entertainment venues shuttered, harsher measures might be on the way.

“You can expect more orders and decisions are going to be made in the coming few days,” Shalman said in the report.

However, even though testing for the virus will become more widespread, Shalman said he did not anticipate that “we are going to offer testing for everybody without clinical reason.”