The Israel Defense Forces continues to see cases of social distancing guidelines being flouted on bases, despite repeated public criticism and warnings from the military chief that Health Ministry restrictions must be enforced.
Channel 12 news aired blurry footage Friday night of soldiers at a basic training base in central Israel gathering in large numbers outside the mess room in the evening hours.
It also reported Friday on footage of soldiers of the Nahal Brigade gathering in large numbers at a base in the Golan Heights, while claiming the brigade had failed to properly quarantine soldiers who had come into contact with a coronavirus patient.
The report said a cook at the El Poran camp had been diagnosed after preparing food for 600 soldiers with his bare hands for the past week. Subsequently only some 100 soldiers have been quarantined while many others who came into contact with the cook have not, soldiers told the network.
Earlier in the week footage emerged of hundreds of new soldiers gathering at the IDF’s induction base in Ramat Gan while failing to maintain any manner of social distancing.
That followed previous reports earlier in March of new conscripts and their families gathering in large numbers outside the base, and of the army holding a major graduation ceremony with soldiers’ families despite health restrictions.
The photos led to an internal military investigation at the highest ranks, and the base’s commander received a reprimand by IDF chief of staff Aviv Kohavi, who warned of “a harsh decisive response” to any further failure to follow distancing orders.
“I view such incidents as negligence, the opposite of scrupulousness and as endangering the health of soldiers and the fitness of the unit,” he said Wednesday.
The military has scaled back the number of nonessential soldiers on bases in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus, particularly those who serve in largely administrative and other less critical positions. Meanwhile many essential soldiers have been ordered to remain on base at all times, without leave, to avoid exposure.
The army says 97 soldiers have so far been diagnosed with coronavirus, and all have experienced mild symptoms only. Twelve of the soldiers have already been cleared as healthy following their bout with the illness.
On Monday the army held a large-scale exercise simulating two different, feasible scenarios for the spread of the coronavirus: a gradual, manageable outbreak and a widespread, unruly one that will require massive involvement by the military.
Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Turgeman, the head of IDF Technological and Logistics Directorate, told reporters that the military was preparing for the possibility of the second scenario — however likely or unlikely it may be — in which it would have to establish field hospitals and take other drastic actions that it has so far avoided as the country’s civilian authorities have responded to the pandemic.
The military said representatives from the Health Ministry and the Shin Bet security service took part in the simulation.
Though civilian medical authorities have largely led the country’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic, the military has both been supporting those activities — providing vehicles and additional personnel to the Magen David Adom ambulance service — and has gradually become more involved in the national effort.
“The IDF is deployed in hundreds of sites, is helping on dozens of issues, and I’m telling you, we are ready to expand that responsibility,” Kohavi told representatives from the Health Ministry Sunday.
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, who has criticized the Health Ministry’s slow pace of testing, has pushed for the military to have a greater role in managing the crisis.
The army’s Home Front Command is currently handling civil assistance operations inside the quarantined city of Bnei Brak.
Several hundreds soldiers have also been deployed to police districts across the country to hold patrols and help officers enforce the government’s partial lockdown.