Israel is at war with an invisible enemy, says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei has called for medical professionals on the frontline of the battle to be seen as “martyrs” in the struggle against coronavirus. Both Israel and Iran, rarely on the same side of issues, agree that the battle against the virus is akin to a national war.
In Iran, the war is being waged very differently than in Israel. Authorities first downplayed the virus threat in February and let it spread from shrines in Qom to Tehran, where it affected many members of parliament and leaders of the country. Now Iran is taking the threat more seriously as more than 17,000 are infected and 1,100 are dead. “The experience we gain combating COVID-19 and the people’s sacrifices and activities that benefit the general public, are achievements that turn tragedies and threats into blessings and opportunities,” Khamenei said on March 16. Iran now views the virus as a form of biological warfare and has sent the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the army out to fight it. This means sometimes clearing streets, but often the government has not sought to lock down the country. Instead, schools have been closed and some events cancelled. Some shrines were shuttered, despite protests by the clerics. The armed forces are establishing medicalcenters and working to stop the spread of the disease.
In Israel, the national struggle has seen the use of digital technology usually reserved for fighting terror, put into service of tracking those who had the virus and helping the Health Ministry decide who to quarantine. Israel took the virus seriously early on in February and sought to stop travel from affected countries. “We must do everything, as a government and as citizens, to not become infected and not to infect others,” Netanyahu said on March 15. The government has sought to isolate the virus and not the whole country, but with the number of those infected climbing to more than 400 on Wednesday, it appears likely a lockdown is coming.
As in Iran, the military plays a significant role in Israel. The Defense Ministry and Home Front Command launched a hotel aimed to host coronavirus patients on March 17. The hotel has separated situation rooms to enable surveillance and the police will aid in enforcing entry to the facility, the IDF says.Iran and Israel both believe they have done more to defeat the virus than Western countries. Israel has acted with serious caution to quarantine people arriving from abroad and taken what appeared to be more extreme measures than countries such as Italy or the UK. In Iran, President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that Iran outdid Western states. “You can’t compare Iran to other states,” he said. “In those countries the shops are empty and people can’t get toilet paper.”In Israel, Netanyahu says that the crux of the battle is before us still. It is a matter of life and death. “We have no intention of throwing up our hands. We have no intention of giving up. We will continue to struggle against the virus with all means and methods until we find relief.”While both Israel and Iran have embarked on a national war against the virus, neither country appears to be ready to coordinate efforts. Many decades ago in the era before the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Jerusalem and Tehran had relations, and Israel was involved in medical projects with Iran. According to reports at the United States Institute of peace Israel aided Iran at the time in modernizing its medical sector.