IDF general: We don’t need an exit strategy, we need a coping strategy

Home Front Command chief says troops helping at-risk, quarantined residents of Bnei Brak and Jerusalem, working to contain other cities’ outbreaks to keep them from ‘turning red’

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

Illustrative: A man wearing a face mask walks through the empty market in Ramla, on March 23, 2020. (Flash90)
Illustrative: A man wearing a face mask walks through the empty market in Ramla, on March 23, 2020. (Flash90)

The head of the military’s Home Front Command on Monday dismissed the growing talk of an “exit strategy” for the coronavirus pandemic, saying the military was instead preparing a “coping strategy” for continuing to manage outbreaks of the disease for many months to come.

“We need to talk about a coping strategy, not an exit strategy,” said Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai, whose Home Front Command has been heavily involved in the national response to the crisis.

He said he expected the country would continue dealing with the coronavirus well into next year “with ups and downs.” However, the general said he believed the country should begin working to allow people to resume some kind of normal routine during this period.

“There’s no shortage of economic problems right now,” he said.

Yadai said the military was designating cities on a red-yellow-green scale from most to least affected by the coronavirus. Currently, the only two cities in Israel to be designated as “red” were Jerusalem, with over 2,000 confirmed cases, and Bnei Brak, with nearly 1,900, though another 10 municipalities were at risk of joining them even as the Home Front Command and other government institutions were working with local authorities to prevent that from happening.. The military would not immediately specify which cities these 10 were.

An illustrative photo of Magen David Adom paramedics transferring a man suspected of carrying coronavirus to an ambulance in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak, March 31, 2020. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

The Home Front Command chief said the military was using a number of factors to make these designations, only one of which was the raw number of cases in the city. Other major considerations were the portion of the population over the age of 60, as the disease tends to hit the elderly more severely, as well as the local government’s ability to handle the crisis.

Yadai said the cities designated as “green” could gradually be reopened, though he stressed that people “should not have any illusions” that everything will go back to normal soon.

IDF troops deliver food to residents of the city of Bnei Brak in central Israel, which is largely closed off from the rest of the country due to a coronavirus outbreak, on April 5, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

Currently, the Home Front Command and troops under it were focusing the majority of their day-to-day efforts in the cities of Bnei Brak and Jerusalem, the two areas that have been hardest hit by the pandemic.

Two battalions — the Nahal Brigade’s Reconnaissance Battalion and a Home Front Command search-and-rescue battalion — were operating in Jerusalem, specifically in its ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, along with a similar number in Bnei Brak, providing tens of thousands of at-risk and quarantined residents with food three times a week.

Yadai said the troops were also helping educate and inform the residents about the virus, evacuating those who contracted the virus and assisting the Magen David Adom ambulance service in performing tests.

The general acknowledged that the military was struggling to convince people in Bnei Brak and Jerusalem who contracted the virus to leave their homes and go to one of the hotels converted into quarantine facilities, despite the military ensuring that all the food would meet the religious standards (kashrut) of every ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, denomination.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews some wearing face masks line up to buy eggs, in Bnei Brak, Israel, Wednesday, April 8, 2020. (AP/Oded Balilty)

“I now know all 26 types of kashrut,” Yadai said, adding that people of every stream of Haredi Judaism could get the food they need.

The general noted that the military had even tried to make going to these hotels more attractive by offering to take in entire families, rather than just its sick members.

“If the parents are sick, the whole family can come. If only half the family is sick, everyone can come,” he said.

Yadai said he was hoping that religious leaders would help convince their congregants to go to these facilities in order to prevent further infections within their communities.

He said the military was providing food and other assistance to: anyone who was over the age of 70 without family living with them; anyone in quarantine with no family living with them; and to the families of anyone who has contracted the disease and was still living at home.

The general said the funding for this food was provided by the government and did not come from the defense budget.

IDF Home Front Command soldiers hand out food packages in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, April 5, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

According to the IDF, over 2 million packages of food have been distributed to over 400,000 people.

The Home Front Command chief said for the most part municipalities have handed out these packages of food themselves, but that in Bnei Brak and in the most affected neighborhoods of Jerusalem this was not possible due to the high rates of the disease.

Yadai said the military was prepared to expand these operations if needed and could either draw further on conscripted troops or begin enlisting large numbers of reservists — something the IDF has refrained from doing until now.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, right, visits the Home Front Command in Ramle and speaks to its commander Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai, left, on March 18, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Home Front Command chief said he’d presented a number of possible options to IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, who would ultimately decide how to proceed.

Speaking to reporters, Yadai also discussed the government’s on-again-off-again policy of having all those coming to Israel from abroad be placed into quarantine facilities.

The Home Front Command chief, who is responsible for setting up and running these facilities, confirmed the program was indeed back up and running, with several flights full of people being sent to these converted hotels.

Yadai said another four to six of these facilities would be set up shortly to keep up with the demand.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed