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Netanyahu vows no further COVID lockdowns after elections

But premier also cautions renewed restrictions possible in case of mutations; says 4 more normalization deals on the way

The closed shops at Dizengof Center in Tel Aviv during a nationwide lockdown, January 7, 2021 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
The closed shops at Dizengof Center in Tel Aviv during a nationwide lockdown, January 7, 2021 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday pledged there would not be another lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus following the general elections on March 23.

“There will unequivocally not be another lockdown,” Netanyahu said in an interview with the Ynet news site.

However, the premier then said new mutated strains of the virus could lead to a lockdown.

The government has imposed three national lockdowns since the pandemic began last year, the most recent of which has been gradually eased since early February amid a continued drop in morbidity and the country’s successful vaccination campaign.

“If people think at the moment we are planning another lockdown after Passover and the elections, I want Israeli citizens to know that when we say ‘getting back to life,’ this is what is happening,” Netanyahu said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the West Bank settlement of Kfar Etzion on March 14, 2021. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

He was also pressed about Israel’s death toll, which passed 6,000 on Sunday, with the interviewer calling the figure a failure of the Netanyahu and his government.

“Six thousand dead is a difficult number for all of us, but it is much less than other countries our size,” he asserted, dismissing the lower per capita death rates in other countries.

Israel has a death rate of nearly 695 per 1 million people, according to the Oxford-based Our World in Data. The global average is 340 per 1 million people.

‘Four more peace agreements on the way’

Netanyahu said in the interview that four more countries were set to normalize diplomatic ties with Israel, following in the footsteps of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.

“We brought about agreements of peace for peace, and there are four more peace agreements on the way,” he said, without specifying which countries would be establishing ties with Israel.

Netanyahu and others, including former US president Donald Trump, have said other countries would follow in normalizing relations with the Jewish state.

PM Netanyahu addresses the cabinet before it votes on the peace treaty with the UAE, October 12, 2020 (GPO)

The prime minister said he had “an important diplomatic conversation” on Monday with a regional leader — whom he didn’t name — when asked about his cancellation of a campaign appearance in the southern city of Ashkelon after a Gaza-based terror group released a threatening video aimed at him. He said the public would hear details about that call in the future.

Netanyahu was also asked about a recent newspaper interview in which the former deputy head of the Mossad criticized the premier over his handling of the pandemic and struggle against the Iranian threat.

“I don’t address every interviewee who begs to work under me and then when he doesn’t get the job gives an interview to Yedioth Ahronoth,” he said, referring to the newspaper.

The senior Mossad official, known only by his Hebrew initial, “Aleph,” chose to step down last month when he was passed over for the top job at the spy agency, a decision by Netanyahu that surprised many in the defense establishment due to Aleph’s vast experience.

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