The United States military and Israel Defense Forces called off a joint exercise that was due to be held in Israel over concerns stemming from the new coronavirus, according to officials from both countries.
The “Eagle Genesis” exercise between the IDF’s Ground Forces and US European Command (EUCOM) was set to include American paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade stationed in Italy, where there has been a significant outbreak of the virus among the general public. As of Monday, 52 people have died in Italy, where there was also a sharp jump in diagnosed cases over the weekend.
As a result of the viral outbreak, the Israeli Health Ministry blocked visitors from Italy — along with a number of other countries — and ordered Israelis returning from there to self-quarantine for 14 days.
“In light of instructions from the Health Ministry and the inclusion of Italy in the list of countries from which people arriving [in Israel] must be quarantined, it was decided to postpone the joint exercise between EUCOM and the Ground Forces,” the IDF said in a statement Monday.
A US military official also confirmed the cancellation to CNN.
“In close coordination with the Israeli government and out of an abundance of caution in the face of the evolving situation with COVID-19, the decision has been made to cancel the exercise. We value our strong partnership with Israel and look forward to continuing training together in the future,” the official told the network.
The IDF said it still planned to host the US military for the joint biannual Juniper Cobra air defense drill, which is scheduled to take place in Israel in the coming weeks, but that this may change as well.
“The IDF is holding constant situational assessments and is getting updates on [the virus] in order to preserve the health of the conscripts and reservists taking part in the exercise. At this point, the exercise will take place as planned,” the military said.
As the virus spreads across the globe, Israel has tried to prevent it reaching the country, banning entry to visitors from several countries where the disease has taken hold, mostly east Asian nations, as well as Italy.
The Health Ministry has also encouraged Israelis not to travel to those countries and required those returning from them to self-quarantine for two weeks.
The IDF on Monday took the Health Ministry recommendation further and explicitly forbade troops and employees from visiting those countries.
On Monday, the Health Ministry announced that two more Israelis were found to have the disease, bringing the total to 12 confirmed cases, with no deaths. Both the Israelis were recently in Italy.
Israel regularly conducts various training drills with the US military in the country, including air force exercises and missile defense drills.
Earlier this month, the IDF confirmed that soldiers from one of the East Asian countries hit the hardest by the disease were allowed to come to the Jewish state and participate in a military exercise with Israeli troops at a base in the south.
Since then authorities have clamped down on arrivals into the country and advised Israelis to only travel abroad if necessary.
The virus has now infected more than 89,000 worldwide, spread to over 60 countries and is threatening to cause a global economic slowdown — after first emerging in China late last year.
Europe raised its state of alert on Monday, as the death toll from the new coronavirus epidemic surpassed 3,000 and more people died in China, Iran, and the US.
At the Pentagon, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that “The United States military looks at a wide variety of scenarios,” regarding a spread among forces of the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19.
“Pandemic is the worst case,” Milley said and added that military labs are working on producing a vaccine.
The general said that the impact of coronavirus on the US military has been “very minimal,” CNN reported.