By the time you read this, the first Israeli victim of corona may have died. An 89-year-old Jerusalem woman has been in critical condition for several days now. Five more Israelis are seriously ill. So far, some 700 patients have been diagnosed with the disease.
As of this morning, Israelis are in lockdown, and people are now restricted to their homes except for shopping for food, urgent medical care, and “walking the dog” so to speak. Prime Minister Netanyahu has now mobilized IDF soldiers to aid police in enforcing these restrictions – violations can result in a stiff fine or time in the cooler. It gets tougher; the internal Shabak security service, designed to combat the Palestinian terrorism, has now been tasked with detecting Jewish citizens who violate the new restrictions and may have come in contact with know coronavirus-“carriers.”
Bibi also disclosed that Shabak has developed a “digital system” for detecting Palestinian terrorist suspects’ movements and communications. This triggered some blowback about its usage in monitoring the movements of Jewish citizens as well. Still, Bibi has promised it will be used only in the campaign against coronavirus, such as checking that corona-carriers remain in their home for the 14-day incubation period. We can now expect to see IDF soldiers patrolling the cities and towns of Israel to help police enforce the curfew.
The PM has also disclosed another “hush-hush” operation in his campaign so far to persuade the Israeli public that he is pulling out all the stops. In one of his nightly pep talks on TV, Netanyahu even disclosed that the Mossad has also “spirited” vital medical equipment from an Arab country in the Gulf. (This is another indication of the Jewish state’s increasing ties with Arab Sunni-Muslim states that fear Shiite-Muslim Iran).
Political Turmoil …
Meanwhile, political critics and the mainstream media have raised questions about Netanyahu exploiting the corona crisis to remain in power. However, he no longer commands a 61-seat majority in the Knesset, after three successive elections in less than a year have failed to cut the “Gordian knot.” There is still no end in sight.
Consider that based on the 15-member support of Israel’s Arab party, Blue and White may muster a razor-thin majority of 61 or 62 seats. However, at least two Blue and White Knesset members oppose a party dependence on Arab Knesset members to form a new government. In our last report on March 13th, IsraCast surmised that party leader, Gantz, was ready to join a coalition cabinet led at first by Bibi. Today, several Israeli newspapers carry banner headlines: “Gantz ready for unity government under Bibi even at expense of breakup in his Blue and White party.” For an analysis of why see IsraCast’s recent report.
The only hitch for Gantz is that three of his co-leaders in Blue and White are deadset against such a dramatic step. (This would include a “rotation” that would have Gantz later succeed Netanyahu as Prime Minister). Former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, former IDF Chief of Staff Gabbi Ashkenazi, and Yair Lapid retort, ‘Over our dead bodies!’ This is undoubtedly the most critical political standoff in Israel’s history.
Coronavirus in Gaza and West Bank …
Against this background of political drama and the corona crisis, some other questions come to mind. What will happen if there is an outbreak of the pandemic in the Gaza strip that was totally evacuated by Israel in 2005? Israel does maintain a blockade of Gaza to prevent the smuggling of rockets, etc. by Hamas, the terror administration. Then there’s the West Bank – the Palestinian administration of President Mahmoud Abbas controls the civilian life of the population. At the same time, the IDF cooperates with the Palestinian security forces in combating Hamas-inspired terrorism.
In both cases, Gaza and the West Bank, Israel does not bear responsibility for healthcare. A severe outbreak of coronavirus in these Palestinian-ruled areas could have dire consequences, as it may in the neighboring Arab states. Then there’s Iran, where the coronavirus is rampant and worsening day by day.