IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi has been lobbying Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to give over full responsibility for dealing with the coronavirus crisis to the IDF, Yisrael Hayom reported Monday. Neither Kochavi nor the IDF have made any public statements on how to handle the virus, and the request to Netanyahu was made in a letter whose existence was known to only a few people, the report said.
The reason for that, the report said, is that Kochavi does not wish to be seen as taking sides on who should shoulder the burden for dealing with the crisis. Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has been advocating that the IDF be put in charge of the matter, while Netanyahu has been reticent to transfer too much control to the army, preferring to keep the Health Ministry in charge. The IDF has been assigned limited responsibility on some aspects of the crisis, such as implementing the closure on Bnei Brak.
In the letter, the newspaper quoted the Chief of Staff as saying that the IDF was prepared to take “immediate responsibility for all aspects of dealing with the crisis.” That includes administering tests, distributing food packages, enforcing curfews, and other day-to-day matters. Kochavi said that the IDF has been preparing for the possibility that it would be called upon to carry out these tasks, and was ready to do so right now.
Analysts said that the letter was “a warning sign. Kochavi is known to be a calm and balanced person, who tries to stay out of politics – hence his reluctance to speak publicly lest he be seen as taking Bennett’s side. But the letter indicates that the IDF top staff, who are arguably the country’s biggest experts on dealing with mass emergencies, are very dissatisfied with what is going on.” The analysts said that Kochavi’s point of view “is supported by many academics, high-tech leaders, doctors and political officials in Israel. They believe that based on what they have seen, the Health Ministry is not up to managing a crisis like this.”
In a statement, the IDF said that “we are involved in ongoing dialogue with political officials on all aspects of the crisis, based on our concept of taking responsibility to help Israelis wherever possible. We cannot comment on any specifics of this dialogue.”