Operation laser beam: Bnei Brak under de facto command of IDF

Soldiers are currently distributing food supplies for civilians and medicine to those in need.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

On Sunday, the large-scale operation named Operation Laser Beam began as soldiers of the 98th Division arrived in Bnei Brak and began assisting the local authorities.

Soldiers are currently distributing food supplies for civilians and medicine to those in need.

The operation is run under the command of former GOC Central Command Maj. Gen. Roni Numa (res.), who de facto commands the city.

The soldiers will not carry weapons or engage in enforcement of health restrictions. They will only serve in a support role, helping to deliver supplies. Soldiers will wear orange vests and hats to accent the fact they are there to provide emergency services.

They will join 1,000 police who are enforcing a lockdown on the city that began on Friday. The goal is to prevent the spread of the virus outside Bnei Brak. Residents are not allowed to leave except for special circumstances. Non-residents are not permitted to enter.

Israel Hayom reported on Saturday that a Health Ministry senior official asked that other haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, cities be declared “restricted areas” as well.

The paper reports that Brig. Gen. (res.) Gal Hirsch is in charge of operations in Elad, in central Israel, and former Gaza Division Commander Maj, Gen. (res.) Yossi Bachar is leading the efforts in Beitar Illit, a community in Judea.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has been lobbying that control of virus-containment efforts should be handed over to the army.

“If we want to cope with this [pandemic], if we want to reopen the Israeli economy, then all responsibility for managing the coronavirus crisis – from A to Z – must be transferred to the IDF and the Defense Ministry as quickly as possible,” he told Channel 12 News. “We’re at war. We’re fighting a tough biological war, against nature, but it’s a war with colossal logistical issues.”

Bnei Brak, a haredi city near Tel Aviv, has been the central focus of recent efforts given its high rate of infection. The city was late to abide by the health ministry’s guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus as its religious leaders initially resisted closing schools, synagogues and seminaries. That changed last week as leading rabbis, realizing the seriousness of the disease, urged their followers not to congregate.

Prof. Ran Saar, head of Maccabi Health Services, an HMO which manages the health care of half of the city’s residents, said on Friday that “about 38% of the residents of Bnei Brak are ill, which is 75,000 people.”

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