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Israeli press review: Minister silent on accusations that Mossad stole Covid-19 kits

Meanwhile, the army asks to be put in charge of pandemic management, and Israeli roads are empty ahead of the Jewish holiday of Passover
Israeli police man a checkpoint on a highway leading to Jerusalem on 7 April (AFP)

Israel army wants control during pandemic

Israeli army chief of staff Aviv Kochavi has filed a request with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Defence Naftali Bennett to hand over responsibility for dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic to the army.

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Kochavi emitted his request in a secret letter last week, which was revealed by newspaper Yisrael Hayom.

Israel has mobilised its external and internal intelligence agencies to obtain coronavirus test kits and monitor people with Covid-19 symptoms.

It has also imposed a lockdown on several cities and towns and issued fines for people straying further than 100 metres away from their homes without a valid reason.

In the secret letter to the premier, Kochavi asked that the army be allowed to conduct coronavirus testing on a wider scope than now, calling for all of the information gathered on the coronavirus to be concentrated in the army’s hands.

Israel has mobilised its entire cadre of academics, physicians, high-tech and industry executives, generals and communications experts to combat Covid-19, Yisrael Hayom said.

Yet Kochavi’s letter reflects the Israeli army's dissatisfaction with how the crisis is being managed, the newspaper said.

The army said in a statement that it “maintains an ongoing dialogue with the political echelon throughout the crisis, with a concept of expansive responsibility, as far as possible”.

As of Wednesday, 9,404 confirmed coronavirus cases were recorded in Israel, including 72 deaths, as the country prepares to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Passover.

Did Mossad steal Covid-19 test kits?

Defence Minister Naftali Bennett has failed to deny that the Mossad, Israel's national intelligence agency, “stole” medical equipment from other countries to face the Covid-19 pandemic, Haaretz reported.

When asked during an interview on the army radio if the Mossad stole medical equipment related to the coronavirus pandemic, Bennett answered: “I will not answer this question. We are all acting in an aggressive and smart way.”

Last month, Middle East Eye reported that Mossad acquired 100,000 Covid-19 tests from two countries with which Israel does not share diplomatic ties, though the kits were "unusable".  

One of the countries is likely to be the United Arab Emirates, MEE reported.

Another Mossad operation reported on Monday allegedly resulted in the requisition of 27 ventilators, 10 million surgical masks, and 25,000 N95 face masks.

Israel faces shortages of C1 and C6 ventilators needed for coronavirus patients, in addition to masks, clothing and medical glasses.   

Last month, Israel mobilised a cyber spy unit in the internal intelligence agency Shin Bet to monitor and identify people infected with the coronavirus.

There are currently 20 labs in Israel dedicated to testing for the coronavirus infection.

Empty roads ahead of Passover

Traffic is usually heavy on Israeli roads in the days leading to the Jewish holiday of Passover, but not this year.

As the country announced closures of many public areas last month, roads, beaches, parking lots and highways are almost deserted.

On Thursday, tighter restrictions will be imposed, pushing Israelis to celebrate the holiday only with their closest family, Ynet reported.

Police, soldiers and volunteers have been deployed to enforce regulations across the country, using drones and helicopters.

The unprecedented curfew came into effect at 3pm on Wednesday, and will last until 7am on Friday.

Residents are prohibited from walking further than 100 metres from their homes.

Gilad Erdan, the minister of public security, told Ynet that Israeli forces would carry out "unprecedented and uncompromising" enforcement of the restrictions during Passover.

“Police will be deployed almost to its largest possible extent," he said, adding that checkpoints will be installed in an unprecedented manner between towns inside Israel.

"We have been using technological measures in recent weeks, not just drones and helicopters as you will see today. Technology companies have also helped police track cell phones that detect crowds,” Erdan said.

* Israeli press review is a digest of reports that are not independently verified as accurate by Middle East Eye.