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Mossad officer describes covert global battle to obtain ventilators at all costs

Spy agencies around the world, which normally dealing with national security, terrorism and international crime, have shifted during the coronavirus pandemic to using their expertise to lay their hands on medical equipment that has become invaluable, a senior Mossad officer has said.

In an exposé broadcast Tuesday by Channel 12’s “Uvda” investigative news program, the head of the technology department in Israel’s Mossad intelligence service said countries have been locked in a fierce, covert battle to take control of a limited supply of ventilators at all costs.

Mossad, which has been tasked with securing medical equipment from abroad from unspecified countries amid worldwide shortages, has helped obtain 25,000 N95 respiratory masks, 20,000 virus test kits, 10 million surgical masks, and 700 overalls for ambulance workers who usually carry out the initial testing for the virus.

Israeli security services and government ministries had also acquired 27 ventilators and at least another 160 ventilators would be brought to Israel by Wednesday, the Mossad has said, without giving details on where the equipment was coming from.

It was the third such shipment by the Mossad over the past few weeks aimed at addressing shortages in Israel.

“I have overseen many operations in my life, and I’ve never dealt with such a complex operation,” said the Mossad officer, identified only by the Hebrew initial “Het.”

He said that the government has tasked the Mossad with obtaining more than 130,000 objects needed to fight the outbreak of the respiratory virus, including gas masks, virus test kits, medicine, protective gear and, most importantly, ventilators, which have become one of the most sought-after commodities in the world.

“The world is selling [ventilators] through cracks. We need to find the cracks,” said Het. “We are world champions in operations, and we know how to manage complex operations.

“We are utilizing our special connections to win the race and perhaps do what the whole world is doing — lay our hands on stocks ordered by others,” he said.

Het said his office was receiving over 2,000 leads every day, some false and some real, and some where other countries beat Israel to the punch.

“We had a country in Europe where our trucks arrived at the factory’s doors but another European country was ahead of us and loaded it up,” he described. “We also had a situation where we had equipment we purchased on a plane but it had to be unloaded because the plane didn’t get permission [to take off] due to the embargo.

“The whole world is looking after itself. Prices have risen four- and five-fold and the world has closed down.”

However, Het said he was confident his organization would meet the set goal of acquiring 7,000 ventilators.

“Uvda” cited senior officials as saying that by the coming weekend, Israel would manage to acquire another 1.5 million N95 protective masks necessary for medical staff, 700,000 surgical masks, 2 million protective overalls and protective glasses, 50,000 coronavirus medicines and, most importantly, 180 ventilators.

The report also said Israel had recently obtained essential information needed for local manufacturing of ventilators, via a complex operation.

Het said Israel’s goal was not to be dependent on anyone else, and Yaniv Rotem, head of the research and development department in the Defense Ministry, said the goal was to produce hundreds of ventilators a week.

“The first dozens of ventilators will be manufactured this week, and it will increase over time,” said Het. “That won’t be the bottleneck.”

He said that unlike three or four days ago, he was now confident that Israel would weather the crisis much better than Italy, Spain and the United States, and that there will be no shortage of equipment.

As of Wednesday morning there were 5,591 diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in Israel. Twenty-one people have died of the disease and 97 are in serious condition, including 76 who are hooked up to ventilators, according to Health Ministry figures.

According to a report prepared last week for the Knesset’s Special Committee on Dealing With the Coronavirus, there were at most 1,437 ventilators in the country still available to treat patients. The Health Ministry disputed that figure, saying there were 2,864 available ventilators.

Last week the Mossad brought 400,000 coronavirus test kits to Israel from an undisclosed foreign location, the Prime Minister’s Office said at the time. The shipment came a week after the agency had obtained 100,000 testing kits.

The PMO, which is responsible for the Mossad, said the intelligence service had imported the chemical reagents needed to perform approximately 400,000 tests. The swabs needed to carry out the task are being sourced both internally and from a number of foreign countries.

The PMO refused to comment further on the matter, specifically on the country or countries that sold it the testing components, leading many to assume that it was a country that does not have strong or formal ties with Israel.

Original: Times of Israel staff contributed to this report