IDF preparing to deploy to support coronavirus curfew

IDF says it will apply experience of Gaza disengagement in deploying 16 battalions of unarmed soldiers to support police enforcement of expected pandemic curfew.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Israel’s army has prepared orders to deploy 16 battalions of soldiers to back up the civilian police in enforcing an expected national quarantine, Kan News reported Thursday.

The orders were given a day earlier in the army’s operations wing allowing unit commanders to begin mental preparation for the approximately 8,000 soldiers who will be taking part in the mission.

A military official told Kan that Israel Defense Force commanders would be using some of the lessons learned from the 2005 Gaza disengagement operation, when IDF troops were used to force the evacuation of Jewish communities in the Gaza Strip. That was the last time IDF soldiers had to face Israeli civilians in such numbers.

Officials emphasized that the troops would be unarmed, without a helmets or bullet-proof vests. Soldiers will accompany police as a backup only and have no authority to arrest civilians. At the end of the mission, the soldiers will return to their base.

As the coronavirus infection rate in Israel skyrocketed officials in the Ministry of Health repeatedly clamored for an immediate one-week total curfew to slow the epidemic’s spread, warning that tens of thousands of Israelis faced getting sick and overwhelming Israel’s hospitals.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has so far resisted the drastic measure, instead imposing a series of increasing restrictions on the population. In several televised addresses to the nation, Netanyahu warned that unless the entire population complied with restrictions on movement he would have no choice but to totally shut down the country except for essential services.

“This requires all of us to take personal responsibility. This requires all of us to take national responsibility,” Netanyahu said Wednesday. “You must stay home! Stay home – stay alive. The danger lurks for everyone.”

“If we do not see an immediate improvement in the trend, there will be no alternative but to impose a complete lockdown,” Netanyahu said.

The IDF itself has not been immune to the virus.

“As of March 26, 2020, 4,156 soldiers are currently in quarantine,” an IDF statement said. “28 IDF soldiers have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the beginning of the outbreak; all 28 have or had relatively mild cases and anyone who is suspected of coming into contact with them has been placed in quarantine.”

In addition to reinforcing the national police force, Israel opened its underground bunker for emergencies and activated the National Crisis Management Center, Kan News reported. The bunker is equipped with tools and designated areas for all government ministries to enable cooperation in decision-making.