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Amid Israel's Coronavirus Outbreak, Netanyahu and Bennett Are at War

Nehemia Shtrasler
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A policeman in Jerusalem, April 2020.
A policeman in Jerusalem, April 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Nehemia Shtrasler

Is it possible that Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t love us? Impossible. He loves us very much and he also loves the country. But the question is what would happen if there were a conflict between what is good for the country and for him personally. Would he choose us, or himself?

To get an answer to that, we should consider a particularly hot topic at the moment. Why is Netanyahu insisting on leaving the task of coronavirus testing in the hands of the Health Ministry and not transferring the job to the Defense Ministry? After all, it is now clear (including to Prof. Gabi Barabash, Channel 12’s medical commentator) that the Health Ministry has utterly failed in the task.

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Every day the ministry has a new, ridiculous excuse as to why it hasn’t met its commitment to conduct 15,000 diagnostic tests per day – a critical level in the absence of which it is impossible to get out from under the horrible economic lockdown that has been imposed on us. And if that weren’t enough, it turns out that recently the Health Ministry’s pace of daily tests declined to just 6,000, and the results from them are only reaching patients after a criminal delay of five days (!), during which time those who will be found to be infected with the coronavirus continue to infect other people.

In addition, there are people with fevers and nagging coughs who are begging to be tested, but can’t. And relatives of carriers of the virus aren’t being tested, and some test samples are getting lost. The Health Ministry is also responsible for the disastrous infections at homes for the aged and infections spread by airplane passengers arriving from abroad, because it has refused to carry out tests and to isolate infected people beyond the confines of their homes.

The ministry’s top officials knew from the beginning that they were incapable of carrying out a substantial level of testing. After all, they are a complex and slow-moving regulatory ministry rather than an agency focused on the delivery of services. That is why they opted for a general lockdown.

That’s easy. It’s the police who are responsible for enforcing it, not the ministry. And if in the economy withers, unemployment spikes and people’s livelihoods sink to a life-threatening level, that’s the Finance Ministry’s problem, not the Health Ministry’s. Lifting the lockdown – which must happen Sunday – requires 15,000 coronavirus tests a day, results within 24 hours and isolating those who are infected. Accomplishing that will require moving the Health Ministry aside, with its entire senior leadership whose big egos and an infinite desire to be in control have brought failure. Crisis management must be shifted to the Defense Ministry and the army which have major experience in handling emergencies. The army has extensive personnel, an experienced procurement division, logistics and transportation resources, ties abroad and a capacity to execute tasks. It is the best positioned for the job.

Netanyahu listens to Bennett at a meeting of his right-wing bloc at the Knesset, March 4, 2020
Netanyahu listens to Bennett at a meeting of his right-wing bloc at the Knesset, March 4, 2020Credit: Sebastian Scheiner,AP

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett asked Netanyahu some time ago to be made reponsible for testing. Army Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi begged for such a decision. Deputy Chief of Staff Eyal Zamir promised to meet Netanyahu’s goal of 30,000 tests per day within two to three weeks. But Netanyahu has refused to transfer responsibility to Bennett and the army. He sees the world through a narrow personal prism, viewing Bennett as a dangerous political rival who threatens his job. It’s less important to him that Bennett is an appropriate person to handle the coronavirus project, with skills and an organized plan to eradicate the pandemic. He also knows we need to get out from under the lockdown to avoid a terrible level of joblessness and economic collapse. But Netanyahu has the opposite agenda. He is doing everything to cut Bennett down to size, to harm and eliminate him. To hell with the pandemic.

In his book “The Prince,” Niccolo Machiavelli wrote that a leader needs to find a stratagem to get the citizens “to need his government all the time, at every hour and in every circumstance, because only then will they be loyal to him.” That’s precisely what Netanyahu is doing. He appears on television alone and reports about how he has saved us today, and will do the same tomorrow. He wants us to see we are lost without him, a flock without a shepherd. What about the good of the country? He laughs. The good of the country is that he remain in power until the end of days – or until Bennett retires.