Israel is the most proactive country when it comes to preparing for the spread of the global COVID-19 virus, a strategy the prime minister says is not going to change. Meanwhile, a viral video of body removal of terrorists killed at the Gaza border fence sparked a new missile barrage from Islamic Jihad in Gaza.
COVID-19: Four Israelis Infected, Students Quarantined
Four Israeli nationals are confirmed to have the COVID-19 coronavirus strain after being infected on the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship off the coast of Japan.
At press time, the global outbreak stands at 79,360 reported infected, 2,619 dead, and 24,963 recovered. The Israeli tally in that total is insignificant, but that’s not stopping the country from taking it very seriously.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman have instructed relevant authorities to prioritize addressing the viral threat, including bringing home the Israelis stuck on the cruise ship. The health ministry has also set up a special hotline for anyone who thinks they may be experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or has been exposed to someone with the virus. Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, or other respiratory symptoms. The country is also training medical staff and first responders on proper testing techniques and how to protect themselves while delivering treatment.
Israel has already imposed travel restrictions for the worst affected areas in China and continues to expand it to other high-risk regions such as South Korea and Japan. The Health Ministry website instructs anyone who has been in Taiwan, Italy, or Australia—all fighting clusters of the virus—during the past fourteen days and who develops disease symptoms be checked.
The fears of the virus spreading inside Israeli borders increased this week after nine South Koreans who were touring Israel were diagnosed with the coronavirus. The health ministry has already quarantined nearly 200 students who came in contact with the Koreans and instructed anyone who came in contact with even just one of the infected individuals—defined as within two meters for at least fifteen minutes—to remain in isolation for two weeks, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Israel’s health system may be well equipped, but infection isn’t the only threat posed by the virus. As fear and panic spread, the economy wavers. Stock markets around the world are beginning to feel the strain of the pandemic, and in the Middle East, Israeli stocks fell the most. The main gauge in Tel Aviv retreated as much as 2.7 percent on Sunday, along with stocks in Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Kuwait, Qatar, and Egypt, according to Bloomberg. Even if the virus is adequately contained, an economic meltdown on a global scale could prove apocalyptic.
Even so, Israel is fortunate to have one of the best health systems in the world and a proactive government that is taking the threat of COVID-19 seriously—but not everyone is as fortunate. The health system in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip is already woefully overwhelmed and under-equipped after years of terrorist rulership over the territory. If COVID-19 reaches the Strip, it will stress the already overwhelmed system to the point of breaking.
In anticipation of that crisis, the World Health Organization and the Gaza Health Ministry set up a fifty-four-bed medical complex where anyone infected with the deadly COVID-19 virus will be quarantined, according to Ynet News. There have not been any recorded coronavirus cases in the Gaza Strip yet, but officials say several Gaza residents traveled to China in recent weeks and have yet to return. Additionally, several countries are now seeing clusters of the virus that are not directly connected to travel to China.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauded the country’s rapid response to the virus and said there was no plan to stop. “I said that over-preparation is better than lack of preparation," Netanyahu said. “To date, Israel has been more stringent than any other country, and we will continue to do what is necessary to prevent the spread of the virus in Israel.”
Viral Bulldozer Video Triggers Rocket Barrage
A wave of twenty rockets launched from the Gaza Strip soared into Israel on Sunday after a video of an Israeli bulldozer removing the bodies of terrorists killed in a border clash went viral.
The graphic video shows an Israeli bulldozer, backed up by an IDF tank, attempting to scoop up the bodies of two Islamic Jihad terrorists who were killed while attempting to place an explosive at the Gaza border fence, according to the IDF. About a dozen Gazans faced off against the bulldozer and tried to recover the bodies themselves. Israeli gunfire sent them fleeing while the corpse of one of the terrorists is seen hanging from the bulldozer scoop.
The IDF said that removal of the bodies was standard practice, and The Times of Israel reports that Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said he supports the military decision. “I give my backing to the IDF that eliminated the terrorists and collected the body [sic]. That is what is needed, and that is how we will act. We will use power against terrorists,” he tweeted.
Bennett went on to call out the double standard regarding holding of bodies for Israel and the Palestinian terrorist organization. "I'm tired of the tainted left-wing criticism against the 'inhumanity' of using a bulldozer to bring to us the body of a terrorist who tried to murder Israelis. Hamas is holding the bodies of Hadar and Goldin," he said, referencing the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed during the Gaza war of 2014 that are allegedly being held in Gaza.
The graphic public display drew outrage from Palestinian and international voices, and Hamas claimed that the dead man was innocent despite Islamic Jihad identifying one of them as their member. The Palestinian response was followed by more than twenty-five missiles launched by Islamic Jihad in southern Israel. Nobody was reported as injured in the attack.
The Israeli response was swift as airstrikes pounded Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza, including a training facility, according to the IDF. The IDF also claimed responsibility for a strike on targets in Syria, just south of Damascus, where Islamic Jihad conducts research and development of weapons.
The weekend’s clash is an unexpected setback to the prior week’s progress made toward negotiated de-escalation of violence between Israel and Gaza.