Netanyahu: Reinstate Shin Bet tracking of coronavirus patients

As infections spike in Israel, Netanyahu pushes for Shin Bet to resume controversial cell phone tracking of coronavirus patients.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Israeli media reported Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pressuring the Shin Bet to resume its controversial cell phone tracking of coronavirus patients.

Recordings shared with Israel’s Channel 12 News revealed a fierce debate between Netanyahu and Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman, during a Knesset coronavirus committee meeting.

Argaman said that while the Shin Bet was ready to resume the tracking program in an emergency scenario, he wanted legislators to develop a civil solution or policy that would be more sustainable than temporarily giving special powers to the security agency.

“In a situation where there’s widespread morbidity and no other solution, we can use Shin Bet programs,” he said. “But I very, very, very strongly ask that we do not enshrine the Shin Bet powers into law at this time.”

According to Channel 12 News, Argaman delved further into detail about how the Shin Bet tracking tools work and why they should only be used in emergency situations. These parts of the recordings are classified due to their sensitive nature.

“Our responsibility is to stop this plague,” Netanyahu responded to Argaman.

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Reportedly slamming his hand on the table, Netanyahu continued, “This disease is returning! Returning! Now the question is how far we are willing to go to stop this thing, which is coming back to us very quickly.”

“If we allow this doubling [rate of infection] to happen, you do the math. It won’t take long, in 30 days, 40 days, 60 days, 80 days… once it starts spreading, it spreads.”

As the number of daily coronavirus infections in Israel rises to the highest levels since April, Netanyahu is interested in effective options to stop the spread, while avoiding the economic devastation of another nationwide lockdown.

Netanyahu’s willingness to reinstate the Shin Bet tracking policy is backed by many of his Likud party members.

Likud MK Yuval Steinitz said in an interview on the Kalman Lieberman program, “We’re talking about human life. There’s no more effective tool than this at the moment to stop the spread of infections.”

“The epidemiological investigations reach people in three to four days, and the patient has already infected 10 people. The Shin Bet does it in three hours,” Steinitz said.

“The epidemiological investigations by the Ministry of Health are a hundred times more invasive than that of the Shin Bet, which only measures the distances between cell phones.”

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A report released Saturday by the National Center for Information and Knowledge in the Battle Against the Coronavirus declared that the Jewish state is officially in the “second wave” of infections, with schools across the country and a Jerusalem nursing home becoming virus hotspots.

Currently, two Arab neighborhoods in Jaffa and the southern Bedouin city of Rahat are under partial lockdowns due to spikes in local cases.

On Monday, at the start of a Corona cabinet meeting, Netanyahu expressed anger at the release of the recording between himself and Argaman.

“First of all, I would like to start with the grave incident of the recording of a Corona Cabinet meeting that was broadcast in the media. In all my years as Prime Minister, I do not remember such a thing, neither from a Cabinet meeting nor from the Corona Cabinet, a discussion with the head of the ISA [Internal Security Agency],” He said.

“This cannot be ignored. I ask all the relevant authorities, including the Attorney General, to enable a thorough investigation. We cannot allow such a thing to take root. We cannot allow this to recur.”