steampunk heart

Opinion: Who needs doctors when you have an army?

For a moment, one might have thought that the heroes of the national health crisis would be the doctors and nurses who are fighting for people’s lives in the operating rooms, juggling multiple patients. But that’s already behind us.

Allow me to present the real heroes of the war – starting with the head of the Mossad, who, by marvelous coincidence, encounters a television camera every time he leaves his office. Through a daring operation, he has managed to buy 500,000 coronavirus testing kits, respirators and 10 million surgical masks (where are they?). Fear not, Israel, Yossi Cohen is guarding you.

And he isn’t alone. Soldiers from the elite Sayeret Matkal unit “bring stratagems, operational capabilities and resourcefulness to these missions,” to quote an article on the Ynet news site. The missions in question aren’t assassinating senior Hezbollah operatives, but merely obtaining reagents for coronavirus tests and locating patients whose tests have gotten lost.

The army announced Operation Crossing Guard to distribute food and Operation Laser Beam in Bnei Brak, where Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi “sent his most elite division.” Generals are being sent to the ends of the earth. Almost as a matter of course, you ask yourself whether this is an army that has a public relations office or a public relations office that has an army.

According to that same article, “another aspect, which senior IDF officers don’t talk about much, is related to the fathomless differences in capabilities, working methods and computerization between the health system and what exists in the IDF. There are people who have described Military Intelligence’s technological resources as ‘state of the art,’ compared to a ‘directory file from the 1980s’ in the health system.”

Oh, really? And how did that happen? Maybe healthcare workers are simply conservative and don’t march with the times like members of the IDF’s elite signals intelligence unit 8200 (another non-anonymous hero of the war against the coronavirus). Or maybe it’s because for decades, the state has thrown money at every possible security threat, real or imaginary.

The chief of staff just recently announced that he has formulated a multiyear plan which requires an immediate increase of tens of billions of shekels in the defense budget over the coming years. In briefings, senior officers explained with grave faces that the Iranians demonstrated fantastic capabilities when they fired precision missiles at Saudi Arabia. You can imagine fire like that aimed at Dimona, or at army headquarters in Tel Aviv. So it’s clear that this threat requires us to invest billions.

Billions have already been invested in the plan to destroy Iran’s nuclear program, while the Mossad needed endless amounts of money to retrieve Iran’s nuclear archive. The Shin Bet security service’s capabilities are also critical, because there are a few Israeli Arabs who have joined hostile organizations.

Here is what the Health Ministry’s director general wrote in a circular back in 2005: “The limited outbreak of a new strain of flu in 1997 was a warning bell heard around the world, and many countries began feverish preparations to cope with this disaster … The emergence of another pandemic isn’t in doubt, and the only question is when it will erupt. The World Health Organization called an emergency conference on March 16, 2004, to acceleration plans for preparing for a pandemic, which it termed ‘inevitable.’”

This circular has been rotting in some drawer. It turns out that the threat of a pandemic was no less likely than an attack by Hezbollah’s precision missiles. But for the first threat, we invested nothing. For the second, we’re willing to go to war.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasts of having increased the health budget. That’s true, but the growth of the population and the increasing cost of health care services necessitated a much bigger increase. Israel has trailed at the bottom of the developed world for years when it comes to national expenditure on health care.

Netanyahu knows this, of course. But he rejected Health Minister Yaakov Litzman’s justified demand to raise the health tax and endlessly delayed all the important decisions that the system has been crying out for.

No health care system in the world was ready for a pandemic like the coronavirus, Netanyahu claims, and rightly. But our public health system isn’t capable of providing reasonable service even in normal times, when Sayeret Matkal, Unit 8200 and the Mossad don’t lend a hand.

Original: Raviv Drucker – HAARETZ contributor