Coronavirus Complicates Upcoming Major Military Exercise

U.S. Marines and Israeli soldiers participate in Juniper Cobra, a U.S.-Israeli joint defense exercise in a mock Arab village, in Ze’elim, southern Israel. (Reuters/Amir Cohen)

Coronavirus may yet make its mark on military security. In about two weeks, hundreds of soldiers from several countries – including Italy – are set to arrive in Israel to join IDF soldiers and American troops stationed on aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean to participate in the next edition of Juniper Cobra, a biennial exercise in which soldiers, along with naval and air forces, seek to fight off threats to participating countries.

Italy is one of the countries to which Israel has issued travel warnings, and travelers returning from that country are required to undergo two weeks of self-isolation, as the number of coronavirus cases in Italy has risen in recent days. As of Thursday, 12 people in Italy have died due to coronavirus, with 374 confirmed infected cases.

On Wednesday night, Yediot Acharonot reported, officials of the Air Force’s medical team discussed the operation with Health Ministry officials, and as of now, the operation is on. There are no plans to ask any of the soldiers participating to isolate themselves before joining the exercise. Some 2,000 personnel are expected to participate in the exercise, 600 of them from abroad – several dozen of them from Italy. The guest soldiers will bunk with Israeli soldiers at IDF bases in northern Israel, according to current plans.

Speaking to Yediot, one of the commanders of a base that is supposed to house the soldiers said that there was a great deal of concern about the upcoming exercise among soldiers and officials. “We don’t believe IDF brass is taking our concerns seriously, we feel they are being dismissed,” said the commander. If soldiers are infected, “we will pay the price and as usual there will be an investigation after the damage has been done, even though in this case we know how to prevent the problem from occurring in the first place.” The IDF had no comment on the report.