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Netanyahu likens arrival of 1st vaccines in Israel to Pearl Harbor bombing

Premier says the shipment of the shots, like the surprise attack on a US naval base that killed thousands and pushed the US into World War II, marked ‘the beginning of the end’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touches the first batch of Pfizer vaccines to arrive in Israel at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, December 9, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touches the first batch of Pfizer vaccines to arrive in Israel at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, December 9, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday apparently approvingly compared the arrival of the first batch of coronavirus vaccines to Israel to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Israel was among the first countries to receive the coronavirus vaccine in large quantities in December 2020, and quickly managed to parlay that into one of the swiftest national inoculation drives in the world, almost totally clamping down on the deadly pathogen even as it remained rampant elsewhere.

“When the planes landed with the massive containers of vaccines, that was one of the most exciting moments in all my years as prime minister, because I felt that this was more or less like when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, you knew it was already the beginning of the end,” said Netanyahu, who was largely credited with inking deals for the swift purchase of millions of vaccine doses from Pfizer-BioNtech and a smaller amount from Moderna.

He made the comments at a ceremony honoring institutions and workers who helped deal with the health crisis.

Over 2,300 US servicemen and dozens of civilians were killed in a Japanese surprise attack on the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii on December 7, 1941. The attack is widely regarded as the impetus that pushed the US into World War II, eventually helping the Allies turn the tide against the Axis powers — though it would take until 1945, with millions more killed.

In this December 7, 1941 file photo provided by the U.S. Navy, the destroyer USS Shaw explodes after being hit by bombs during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. (US Navy via AP, File)

This is not the first time Netanyahu has mentioned Pearl Harbor in a positive light. In 2002, Netanyahu told a US congressional hearing on Iraq that Pearl Harbor “was a pivotal event that opened the eyes of Americans, and once their eyes were opened they gathered the power that is available in this great free nation, and the result was preordained.

The USS Arizona Memorial, marking the resting place of the crewmen killed on December 7, 1941 when Japanese Naval Forces bombed Pearl Harbor, is pictured on December 24, 2016 in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. (AFP PHOTO / Jerome CARTILLIER)

“I think in a similar way, the bombing of September 11th opened the eyes of Americans to see the great conflict and the great dirge that face us; and once opened, and the overpowering will of the majority of the people of the United States, of the steamroller that is inexorably moving to decide this battle,” he added at the time.

Netanyahu’s comments, in which he pushed for the eventual US invasion of Iraq, were mentioned by then US secretary of state John Kerry in 2015 to argue against heeding the Israeli leader’s warnings against the Iran nuclear deal.

“The prime minister, as you will recall, was profoundly forward-leaning and outspoken about the importance of invading Iraq under George W. Bush, and we all know what happened with that decision,” Kerry said at the time.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a ceremony honoring medical workers and hospitals for their fight against the COVID-19 epidemic, in Jerusalem, on June 6, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

In his Sunday remarks, Netanyahu also said he had discussed establishing joint ventures with the US to deal with possible future pandemics, including developing and manufacturing vaccines, and hinted he was not convinced the coronavirus was not man-made.

“We live in an age of viruses, in the case that the coronavirus was created naturally, and it’s still not totally clear — I hope it wasn’t natural, but it seems it’s impossible to know — and that raises the chances of outbreaks of more pandemics,” he said, according to a transcript provided by his office.

His remarks came hours after Israel began officially vaccinating adolescents ages 12 and up, which he said would “officially confirm herd immunity.”

An Israeli child receives a COVID-19 vaccine, at Clalit Covid-19 vaccination center in Petah Tikva, on June 6, 2021. (Flash90)

Israel has seen the coronavirus nearly totally disappear from daily life, with only a handful of new cases daily and nearly all restrictions lifted. The vaccination campaign, which has seen over 5.4 million people get at least one dose, out of a population of 9.2 million, has been largely credited with having driven the virus out.

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