Israeli forces prepare for nationwide lockdown

'We have a state of emergency plan in place'

Israeli police officers seen during a raid on the ultra orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Meah Shearim, as they close shops and disperse public gatherings following the government decisions in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus. March 24, 2020 (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Israeli police officers seen during a raid on the ultra orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Meah Shearim, as they close shops and disperse public gatherings following the government decisions in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus. March 24, 2020
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
As the number of Israelis with the novel coronavirus continues to climb, the defense establishment is preparing for a nationwide lockdown in which soldiers will work with police to enforce it.
While no order has been given to the military, if it happens, eight battalions of unarmed troops from training bases will accompany the police, IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Hidai Zilberman said.
The soldiers are undergoing training to act as an auxiliary force to the Israel Police, which has legal authority to enforce the lockdown.
The Public Security Ministry has asked the IDF to provide 16 battalions, Kol Yisrael reported on Sunday. Each police district would be assisted by two IDF battalions, which would enforce the lockdown as well as assist in supplying essential equipment, it said. The military later clarified that each police district would have one battalion, and additional troops would be available if necessary.
The number of individuals diagnosed with the virus climbed to 1,656 cases by Tuesday morning. According to the Health Ministry, while the large majority of cases are mild, 31 people are in serious condition, and at least three people have died. Forty-nine people have recovered from the virus.
Since the coronavirus outbreak last month, some 135,549 Israelis have self-isolated at home for a period of 14 days after returning from overseas or being exposed to the virus. There reportedly are 71,029 citizens in isolation.
Twenty-three soldiers are sick with coronavirus, and one recovered, Zilberman said. Another 5,600 soldiers and civilian employees of the IDF are in quarantine, including 240 lone soldiers who are being housed at a military resort facility in Givat Olga. The military will be opening another quarantine facility for lone soldiers at Beit Hahayal in Kiryat Shmona, Ynet reported.
Fewer soldiers are in quarantine because many of them who returned from abroad finished their isolation period and were released after they were not found to have contracted the virus, Zilberman said.
“The police will be ready to keep Israelis in their homes if that is what the government and the Health Ministry decide,” said Yishai Shalem, head of the Israel Police Operational Department.
“It’s not so complicated,” he told The Jerusalem Post on Monday, the same day Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took part in a seven-hour meeting with senior officials to determine what new guidelines might be required to help slow the spread of coronavirus.
“We have a state-of-emergency plan in place, and if there is a decision to do it and we are required to move forward, we can and will,” Shalem said.
Earlier this week, Police Acting Insp.-Gen. Moti Cohen revealed some details of the plan. It would involve dividing the country into quadrants, each headed by a captain and team of police officers and soldiers, who would monitor borders and movement and enforce the lockdown. Hundreds of police officers would be deployed to villages, towns and cities and be stationed alongside soldiers, he said.
“We know how many officers we need near Jerusalem, between Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh and on the roads linking Ramle and Lod,” Cohen said. “There is a plan for every district.”
Shalem said barriers would block city boundaries, and people would be stopped on the street and asked for their IDs and addresses. But this would take place only if the most extreme plans are rolled out, he said, in which case only groceries and pharmacies would be open, and people could only go to them or be outside within a few meters of their homes.
The police have never seen anything like this before and were basing their plans on what other countries have done in the past and now, including China, Italy, Germany and the United States, Shalem said.
“It’s not a military state” though, he said. “We want the public to participate. If they act well, then we will not need to intervene.”
The police already have played a prominent role in enforcing quarantine and closure orders.
The police have opened 135 investigations against individuals who broke quarantine and 23 against those who published fake news about the virus, they reported Tuesday. They also closed 54 businesses for not adhering to the regulations. Moreover, police have checked 25,700 people to confirm that they are in quarantine.
Overnight early on Tuesday, Haifa police arrested a man for causing damage to the newly opened Magen David Adom coronavirus testing complex. He also stole a computer from the center.
The police have been given access to enough data about Israeli citizens to “know how to check if people are in isolation,” Shalem said. “We know who came back from abroad and who needs to be in isolation. We call them first to see if they are in isolation. If we don’t think so, we visit their homes.”
“We know how to patrol the streets, check that businesses are closed and make sure restaurants are only serving takeaway,” he said.
Most of the public is following the Health Ministry directives, but some sectors have been more recalcitrant, Shalem said. He did not elaborate. But if and when a total lockdown is implemented, those sectors would be compelled to cooperate, he added.
“This is really just to protect the public’s health,” Shalem said. “We are here for the safety of the public.”