The battle with coronavirus is not over yet - editorial

Rather than boasting about the wisdom of the steps taken, this is a time for some humility.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a press conference regarding the easing of coronavirus restrictions, May 4, 2020 (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a press conference regarding the easing of coronavirus restrictions, May 4, 2020
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
On May 1, 2003, just a month after the start of the Second Gulf War, US president George W. Bush theatrically flew to the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier off the San Diego coast and declared – against the background of a huge banner that read “Mission Accomplished” – an end to major combat operations in Iraq.
Though Bush acknowledged in his speech that there was still “difficult work” ahead, the impression he left was of a victory achieved.
It was, of course, way premature.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had his own “Mission Accomplished” moment Monday in the Prime Minister’s Office where he convened a press conference – one in which he actually took questions – and patted himself heartily on the back for the way the government has successfully battled the coronavirus.
The battle was not over, he said, but Israel’s achievements against COVID-19 “are a model for many countries, and the world is learning from us.”
The self-congratulatory tone of the event led critics to label it the “How I defeated the coronavirus” press conference.
Granted, Israel has dealt well with the virus in comparison with much of the rest of the world: Its morbidity rate is low, the number of tests it is carrying out is high, and it is now taking significant strides to restart the economy. But this is definitely no time to crow, preen or seek credit. The road ahead is long and full of potential pitfalls.
Rather than boasting about the wisdom of the steps taken, this is a time for some humility. If the coronavirus has taught anything, it is humility. One day the world is carrying on as usual, the next a tiny microbe brings everything to a screeching halt. Corona is a stark reminder of humanity’s limitations.
But our leaders have not internalized this message, angling for credit and making boasts that seem premature – and not only about the virus.
Within a couple hours of Netanyahu’s press conference, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett – who apparently was not invited to the event to bask in the limelight of success – put out a statement saying that scientists at the Israel Institute for Biological Research at Ness Ziona discovered an antibody to neutralize the deadly virus.
Bennett praised the scientists who made the breakthrough, saying “creativity and the Jewish mind have brought this amazing achievement. The entire defense establishment will continue to operate at the forefront in the battle against corona.”
The isolation of this antibody is a significant achievement that should be applauded. But with all our national pride, let’s not jump the gun: Israel has not yet discovered the corona cure. It would be marvelous if it could, but the race has not yet been won. So let’s not say it has.
Monday’s boasts of beating corona and finding its cure were followed on Tuesday by a senior defense official who briefed reporters that Iran was beating a retreat out of Syria. In other words, Israel not only defeated corona, but it was also beating Iran.
The remarks followed airstrikes deep inside Syria on Monday attributed to Israel that targeted Iranian facilities. Bennett, in a television interview less than 24 hours after the incident, said Israel was determined to drive Iran from Syria – and that while for Tehran, its involvement in Syria was an “adventure,” for Israel, preventing its entrenchment there was a matter of life and death.
If IDF intelligence does indeed have signs that the Iranians are leaving Syria, there seems little to gain by boasting about it. Might this not just add to their resolve to dig in deeper? Why the braggadocio over this and corona?
The answer is clear: politics.
Netanyahu will benefit politically if a narrative takes hold that he recognized the COVID-19 threat earlier than most other world leaders and took daring steps to keep Israel from becoming Italy.
And Bennett, possibly on his way out of the Defense Ministry and angling for the Health Ministry portfolio, wants to show achievements, both in the way the security establishment he heads has assisted in fighting the plague, and in pushing Iran out of Syria.
But it all might be premature. Corona, though perhaps in temporary retreat, is not magically vanishing – and Iran’s presence in Syria is not suddenly disappearing.


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