IDF general met with Netanyahu after visit to coronavirus-stricken Italy

IDF operations chief Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva returned from Italy last month and met with the prime minister before the Health Ministry required self-quarantine

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and senior officials from Israel's security services, including Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, center-left,  meet to discuss growing tensions with terror groups in the Gaza Strip at the military's Tel Aviv headquarters on February 23, 2020. (Tal Oz/Defense Ministry)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and senior officials from Israel's security services, including Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, center-left, meet to discuss growing tensions with terror groups in the Gaza Strip at the military's Tel Aviv headquarters on February 23, 2020. (Tal Oz/Defense Ministry)

An Israeli general who was later instructed to enter self-quarantine following a visit to Italy met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior officials last week.

The Israel Defense Forces confirmed that the officer, Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, the head of the IDF Operations Directorate, returned to Israel some 12 days ago from a personal trip to Italy, which has seen a high incidence of the COVID-19 disease.

On February 23, he took part in a high-level security consultation with Netanyahu, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, IDF chief Aviv Kohavi and other senior security officials during Israel’s two-day battle with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, as seen in a video of the meeting, distributed by the Defense Ministry.

Three days later, on February 26, the Health Ministry announced it was requiring all those returning from Italy and a number of other countries with the coronavirus to quarantine themselves. According to the IDF, Haliva immediately isolated himself in his home, where he has remained since. He was due to end his quarantine later this week.

File: Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, head of the IDF’s Operations Directorate, in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

Netanyahu, who is 70-years-old, would not have to enter self-quarantine due to his interactions with Haliva, as the Health Ministry currently only requires such a measure if a person has been in contact with someone who contracted the disease, not someone who is required to self-quarantine as in the case of Haliva.

Netanyahu did not shake hands with Haliva during the meeting or have any other physical contact with him.

The prime minister seemingly stopped shaking people’s hands in late February while campaigning.

A video published by the Kan broadcaster of a visit to Hebron on February 24, showed him bowing instead of grasping the hands of well-wishers.

A source from Netanyahu’s campaign told The Times of Israel the prime minister himself made the “responsible” decision because he “meets with thousands of [campaign] activists daily.”

According to the IDF, 406 service-members were in quarantine as of Tuesday night, the majority of them as a result of visits to countries with a high incidence of the virus. The military said another 91 soldiers had already completed their two-week quarantine and returned to their units.

One soldier was diagnosed with the disease earlier this week after she came in contact with a man who contracted the virus during a vacation in Italy.

According to the IDF, after becoming infected with the coronavirus, the soldier visited the health clinic at the military’s Kirya headquarters in Tel Aviv on February 26 and 27, for an unrelated reason. She also spent some time on February 27 with her unit.

People arrive to vote at a special polling station for voters quarantined due to possible exposure to the new coronavirus in Jerusalem, during the Knesset Elections, on March 2, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

As a result of her visits to the clinic and her unit, at least 71 soldiers — including two of the clinic’s doctors — were instructed to enter quarantine.

In total, 12 Israelis have been diagnosed with the disease, according to the Health Ministry. No deaths have been reported from the coronavirus in Israel as of Tuesday night.

Israel has taken far-reaching steps to prevent an outbreak, banning entry to foreigners who were in China, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Italy in the 14 days prior to arriving, and compelling all Israelis recently in these areas to self-quarantine for 14 days.

In a dramatic statement Wednesday, the Health Ministry urged Israelis to seriously consider refraining from traveling abroad.

Israel is the first country to urge its citizens to refrain from international travel entirely because of the outbreak, which started in China in December and has since infected over 92,000 worldwide and claimed over 3,100 lives, almost all of them in China.

The Health Ministry has faced criticism for its extreme measures, with some saying it is unnecessarily panicking people and causing economic and diplomatic damage to the country. Ministry officials have said they prefer to take a strict line than be sorry later.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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