Defense ministry: IDF ready to lead charge against corona

Military says it is ready to take over fight against coronavirus under state of national emergency.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Israel’s military asked to be given the mandate and take over the job of handling the growing coronavirus crisis from the health ministry, Israel Hayom reported Monday.

The Israel Defense Forces was “ready and willing to do so immediately,” the report said, quoting senior defense officials who said that “any delay could cost lives.”

Defense officials were apparently organizing under the assumption that if and when the government declares a national state of emergency, Israeli law authorizes the IDF’s Home Front Command to take over responsibility for crisis management from civilian authorities for the duration of the state of emergency.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett was forced to backtrack after criticism that he was overstepping his authority, saying “the Ministry of Health is leading the national policy on corona, along with the prime minister.”

“The Ministry of Defense serves and contributes to the national effort in every way,” Bennett tweeted. He admitted that there were obvious “professional disagreements,” saying detractors were trying to raise tensions between the two ministries but would not succeed.

“The IDF, the Home Front Command and the Ministry of Defense will continue to shoulder the fight against corona in every way,” Bennett tweeted.

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During an inspection last week of troops providing coronavirus support, IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi said during this “time of emergency, the IDF adjusts its activity to fit its needs and the requirements of the state.”

“The IDF is already working in a number of areas in order to assist, and will continue to work on any required task,” Kohavi said, telling his troops, “your role in assisting the civilians directly affects the ability of the State of Israel to cope with the spread of the virus.”

As the number of Israelis infected with coronavirus continued to climb, Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan warned Monday that a nationwide curfew would be imposed if too many citizens continued to violate health ministry regulations on movement.

“We will gradually move to impose the closure,” Erdan said in a Kan Radio interview.” Hundreds of thousands of additional people will be required to not go to work; Israel will be divided into sectors, and the police – together with IDF battalions – will check on people who are outside (of their homes), he cautioned.

In preparation for a potential national lockdown, Erdan asked for 16 battalions of IDF troops to help police enforce the curfew, published reports said Sunday.

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He later tweeted a clarification saying that the drastic move would be a last resort used to save lives “if there was no public cooperation and high discipline to prevent the pervasive spread of the virus.”