Yossi Yehoshua
Yossi Yehoshua
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett

Netanyahu won the political battle, but Israel lost coronavirus war

Opinion: PM and the Health Ministry's continued refusal to cooperate with the defense ministry to tackle the COVID-19 crisis may cost the nation many lives and all because Netanyahu didn't want to give an upper hand to his political rival, Naftali Bennett

Yossi Yehoshua |
Published: 03.25.20 , 23:10
One of the main issues the future state committee, set up to examine the government's conduct during the coronavirus outbreak, will be the price Israel paid for not tasking the security apparatus with overseeing the crisis.
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  • In due time, the answer will become clear: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu didn't want to transfer authority over the handling of the situation to Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, his political rival.
    נפתלי בנטנפתלי בנט
    Defense Minister Naftali Bennett
    (Photo: Moti Kimchi )
    When Bennet began calling for mass testing, the Health Ministry opposed, directly contradicting the stance of the World Health Organization (WHO) and health officials in South Korea, a country that in a short time thwarted the spread of the disease.
    When Bennet called for COVID-19 patients to be taken out of their houses and put into dedicated recovery centers - also in accordance with WHO's recommendations - the Health Ministry once again objected, advocating instead for home hospitalization that (puts the patients' relatives at risk of infection).
    It has to be said that over the recent days, the ministry has begun making a U-turn regarding its policy on the number of tests and hospitalization in recovery centers.
    But, the more serious issue remains - the lack of ventilators.
    Every Israeli who reads the news already knows the horror stories coming out of Spain and Italy, where doctors are forced to disconnect the elderly from the ventilators to help the younger patients.
    מלון דןמלון דן
    IDF soldiers at coronavirus recovery center in central Israel
    (Photo: Motti Kimchi)
    On Tuesday evening, Netanyahu ordered Mossad chief Yossi Cohen to establish a command center and be responsible for the necessary procurement of medical equipment to fill the need of the medical teams including ventilators.
    Where was Netanyahu until now? Why was so much time wasted by the Health Ministry trying in vain to acquire ventilators when the defense ministry, an expert in this field, was sidelined?
    The defense ministry can, for example, use its special tech units to convert simple at-home respirators to a more effective model, which is what the special tech department in the Military Intelligence Directorate is already doing.
    Private companies could have also been used to help with the task, but they were ignored as well.
    The prime minister and the health minister have wasted valuable time, let us hope it will not cost us human lives.
    בנימין נתניהובנימין נתניהו
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
    (Photo: EPA)
    It could be that at this point, putting the defense ministry in charge is nothing short of useless, but they should have been tasked with the mission long ago. Instead, Netanyahu was afraid that Bennett would "steal" the challenges ahead by tackling them sooner and better than the prime minister.
    The defense ministry should have been given the go-ahead to manage this crisis months ago when the situation in China first unveiled its dangerous potential.
    But, unfortunately, it did not happen. In this instance, Netanyahu the political battle but Israel might lose the coronavirus war.
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