Israel Is Paying the Price for Netanyahu Refusing to Appoint a ‘Corona Czar’

The warnings are piling up. The expert panel advising the National Security Council, the Military Intelligence’s coronavirus information center and the Israeli Society for Infectious Diseases have all warned the government that we will fall into the abyss if our apathetic attitude toward the coronavirus continues.

But the issue isn’t just the rising number of people infected or the delay in setting up an effective system to break the chain of infection. Something bigger is happening here. At the current stage of the battle against the coronavirus, Israel is suffering from a complete absence of leadership. Its leaders have demonstrated not only a lack of direction, but even a lack of concern.

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Just a month ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Israel victorious over the coronavirus. He urged people to go out, have fun and visit their grandparents, even boasting that “the entire world” was seeking to learn how to fight the virus from us. But since then, such statements have been replaced by a gloomy, confused tone.

Conversations with senior officials in the health system, the political system and the defense establishment paint a picture of chaos. This chaos stems first and foremost from the lack of systematic management by any centralized agency.

The major defense agencies – the Israel Defense Forces, the Shin Bet security service and the Mossad – took advantage of the temporary decline in the incidence of the illness in late May to reduce their involvement in the crisis. Their decision apparently stemmed in part from Netanyahu’s refusal to appoint any single agency to preside over managing the crisis.

The prime minister prefers to keep all the cards in his hand. He apparently fears that transferring authority to another agency would constitute an admission of failure.

President Reuven Rivlin hinted at this dispute in his speech at a pilots’ graduation ceremony last week, when he urged that all the agencies fighting the virus be united into “a single iron fist.” Former Defence Minister and Yamina lawmaker Naftali Bennett is driving Netanyahu crazy with his constant demand for a transfer of authority, based on his familiarity with the views of those within the system. But so far, nothing has moved.