The Israeli army will deploy two battalions to the densely populated Haredi city of Bnei Brak to manage the COVID-19 outbreak that has infected more than 1,000 residents.
Troops will most likely arrive on Saturday night and will focus on three missions: aiding first responders in increasing testing for coronavirus; evacuating the sick for medical treatment and voluntarily transferring the healthy elderly to hostels outside the city; and supplying food and medicine to those in need. Food stores in the city will remain open, and those who are able to go and shop can still do so.
The army’s goal is to help the local government in its time of need, not to replace it, the head of the military's Home Front Command, Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai, told journalists on Friday. "There is no full closure and no military rule in the city. We have come to help,” said Yadai.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a consultation on Friday morning to define the main objectives of the operation. The police will continue to be in charge of enforcing closure restrictions and the army will not enforce limitations on movement. It was also agreed that the Health Ministry will continue leading the medical front and the city hall will continue with its current functions.
The army will establish a headquarters in the city, made of the 98th Division, to coordinate with the municipality and police. The division commander, Brig. Gen. Yaron Finkleman, will be assisted by the Home Front Command. The plan is to send hundreds of soldiers from the division’s regular units: The Paratroop Brigade and the Commando Brigade, along with support from logistical units.
Yadai said he sent a letter a few days ago in which he warned of the situation in Bnei Brak was deteriorating and offered to use the Home Front Command’s capabilities to help the city. “I am pleased that the answer is being given now, maybe in a slight delay,” he said.
The soldiers sent to Bnei Brak will be equipped with protective gear, "to the best of our ability and according to the instructions of the Medical Corps,” said Yadai. He added that he had been given carte blanche from Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi: “If we need to bring an entire brigade here to help out, we will receive it.”