IDF cancels all exercises for reservists amid coronavirus fears

Military says it’s working to maintain operational capabilities, while also preparing to assist civilian authorities as the disease proliferates further

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Illustrative: IDF reservists patrolling along the Lebanese border near the Israeli village of Zar'it. (Roy Sharon/Flash90)
Illustrative: IDF reservists patrolling along the Lebanese border near the Israeli village of Zar'it. (Roy Sharon/Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces announced Friday that it was calling off exercises for reserve units for at least the next month as the country works to rein in the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The military said the decision was made by the head of IDF Ground Forces Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick, who is responsible for the military’s training programs for ground troops, in coordination with other senior officers.

“This decision was considered seriously and was made out of a desire to preserve the fitness of the IDF, while also maintaining the IDF’s commitment to reservists who are supported by their families at this time,” the military said in a statement.

This ban will remain in effect until at least after the Passover holiday, which is due to end on April 15.

Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick, head of the IDF Northern Command, in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF said that a small number of training exercises by reserve units may still take place if approved by Strick.

This was the latest in a series of measures adopted by the IDF to prevent the spread of the coronavirus through the military in order to ensure that it can still operate as normally as possible.

This has included both limiting civilians’ access to IDF installations and preventing soldiers from unnecessarily leaving their bases.

In total, at least 2,584 soldiers were in quarantine as of Friday afternoon, while several hundred more had been quarantined but have since been released following the required two-week period. At least three service members have been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

In addition to working to prevent the spread of the disease within its own ranks, since the outbreak of the virus the IDF has also been readying to assist civilian authorities if needed.

To that end, the IDF was preparing to convert some military bases into field hospitals. If the disease spreads further, IDF troops would also likely be called on to assist the Israel Police and other civilian authorities to enforce quarantines on cities and towns with high incidences of the disease.

Passengers wearing masks to help protect against coronavirus arrive at the Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. Israel will quarantine anyone arriving from overseas for 14 days, as it fights the spread of the virus. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The military was also preparing to be called upon to assist the country’s healthcare system and to provide food and other necessities to Israelis if needed.

In recent weeks, the IDF Home Front Command has been holding exercises simulating various contingencies related to the spread of the virus.

IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Eyal Zamir was tasked with leading the military’s response to the virus, alongside the Operations Directorate, the Medical Corps and the Home Front Command, which works closely with civilian emergency response services.

As a result of the virus, international travel into and out of Israel has been heavily reduced, event venues have been closed, gatherings of over 100 people have been banned and schools across the country have been shuttered.

After emerging in China late last year, the virus has now infected some 134,000 people worldwide and killed nearly 5,000, most of them in China, Italy and Iran, though cases have been reported in countries and territories around the globe. In Israel 126 people have been diagnosed with the disease, and tens of thousands have been quarantined.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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