By Anna Ahronheim, The Jerusalem Post: Israel’s “war-between-wars” campaign against Iran is continuing despite the spread of the coronavirus, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday.
"The Iranian leadership insisted for many years to invest its monetary and human resources in exporting terror instead of on its own people and today the Iranian people are paying the price. Iran should start taking care of its people,” he said in a press conference.
Earlier in the day Israel Air Force Commander Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin said that the IAF will continue it’s routine and maintain operational readiness despite the outbreak of the virus.
“This is a historic event that happens once in a 100 years. The [air] force has gone into a state of emergency,” Norkin told senior air force officers by video conference. “We have made significant adaptations and changes in how we operate. We are aware of our people and we will take care of their health and we will help as much as necessary in the national and civilian effort to deal with this virus. We will continue to defend the skies of the nation. And we will be operationally prepared to protect the skies,” he added.
Iran is among the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus, with thousands of people dying from the deadly virus, including several senior government officials.
In early March IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Hidai Zilberman told reporters that there’s been a decrease in hostile enemy activity targeting Israel due to the continued spread of the coronavirus.
Speaking to reporters by phone, Zilberman said that the spread of the virus has affected Israel’s enemies who have decreased their hostile activities to focus on containing it.
While he did not refer to Iran by name, the spokesman said that “there are enemy countries which have been hit much stronger than us by corona and therefore their activities have decreased.”
Also on Sunday armed IDF troops have begun to patrol Israeli cities alongside Israeli police officers to enforce the Health Ministry restrictions meant to stop the continued spread of the coronavirus.
The 650 armed troops will act as an auxiliary force to the police who have the legal authority to enforce the lockdown which requires Israelis to remain at home except under specific circumstances such as buying food or going to a pharmacy.
Should a full nationwide lockdown be imposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an additional 3,600 troops from the ground forces training bases will be allocated to the police.
According to Haaretz, the troops deployed alongside the police will not be stationed inside Arab cities and villages in Israel.
The number of individuals diagnosed with the virus climbed to over 3,865 cases by Sunday morning. According to the Health Ministry, while the large majority of cases are mild, 66 people are in serious condition and 12 people have died. Another 89 people have now made a full recovery.
One of the Israelis in critical condition is a 20-year-old man who came to hospital in Ashdod in mild condition before he deteriorated and needed to be placed on a ventilator.
There are 58 IDF soldiers confirmed to have the virus and another 3,697 in quarantine, many of them at two quarantine facilities run by the IDF and Yahad-United for Israel’s Soldiers. The soldiers who have been diagnosed with the virus have been placed at the military’s corona treatment center in Ashkelon which is also run by the association
Col. (res) Sharon Harmon, Deputy CEO Yahad- United for Israel’s Soldiers told The Jerusalem Post that in addition to the hundreds of soldiers who are quarantined, there are thousands more who must remain on base that are being helped by Yahad.
“The IDF wants to keep the troops separate from civilians, so they can return to their duty as soon as possible,” Harmon said, explaining that “even with all the chaos that we have because of the virus, the IDF needs to be strong because this could be an opportunity for our enemies to attack us.”
On Friday night a rocket was fired from northern Gaza towards southern Israeli communities leading the IDF to carry out retaliatory strikes on Hamas targets later that night.
According to Harmon, thanks to donations by over 80,000 troops (both men and women) were given packages of hygiene products as well as games and other care products. The association will also provide care packages with food and games for the Passover holiday to troops, including some 17,000 lone soldiers.
“Usually soldiers have families who can help them, but lone soldiers don’t have that,” Harmon said adding that “we will make sure that the thousands of troops on base will celebrate the Passover holiday, and those who remain in their apartments will get these care packages as well.”
The association plans to hold a Passover Seder for all troops in their quarantine facilities with a high ranking IDF officer to do the blessings.
Harmon told The Post that despite the hard economic hit caused by the virus, donors in Canada, the United States, Mexico, Brazil, France and England have given the association a total of NIS 8 million.
“Everyone is in a hard place and it's not easy to give but this is for soldiers and we will continue to support them,” she said.