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Israel’s defense minister rises to the COVID-19 threat

In taking action to combat the coronavirus outbreak in Israel, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has shown that he can be creative, determined and effective in using the military’s human and technological capabilities.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed Naftali Bennett to the lofty position of defense minister last November, and on Feb. 10, in a moment of candor at a campaign event in the Jordan Valley, he revealed the reason for the appointment: to prevent Bennett from joining a government led by Blue and White Chairman Benny Gantz. “The Blue and White party almost had a government,” Netanyahu said. “I made the move at the very last minute and appointed him defense minister. That’s the truth.”

In the last few rounds of Israeli elections, Bennett had committed almost every mistake possible, making the Defense Ministry portfolio the springboard he needed to resuscitate his political standing. On more than one occasion, he has made surprising, populist decisions aimed at appeasing his right-wing base that have ultimately caused problems for Israel’s security if not put it at risk altogether. Examples include his decision to build a new Jewish neighborhood in Hebron, to collect the bodies of Palestinians killed launching attacks along the Gaza-Israel border for use as bargaining chips and to release from administrative detention a member of the Hilltop Youth who threw rocks at a car and injured the Palestinian driving it. “Bennett gives back to extremist right-wing activists and weakens security system in the field,” complained an unnamed senior member of the Shin Bet according to a Feb.12 news report.

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