Command and Control in the Corona Crisis: Who Should Manage the Campaign

Commentary: Recently we have witnessed a continuing debate over the authority and responsibility to manage the corona crisis. There are those who claim that the campaign should be managed in a different manner and with a different chain of command. This article presents the author's professional position on the topic

Brig. Gen. (Res.) Gal Hirsch. Photo: Meir Azulay

The Al-Qaeda organization's 9/11 terrorist attack on the US in 2001 took the lives of thousands of Americans and gave birth to the concept of homeland security. Strict security procedures were very familiar for Israelis, but in the US, life changed. The procedures of the Department of Homeland Security fundamentally changed traffic, aviation, security check and defense arrangements. They had an influence on every American, and after them, on the security standards in the entire world.      

The world learned once more the significance of Dr. Nassim Taleb's concept of a "black swan", a shocking surprise that changes life completely. It had previously been used in the context of economic crises, such as in 2008, and natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, and we leaned that we need the capability to correctly identify the situation, define it, recover quickly, show flexibility and provide an entire national response that depends on all of the country's authorities, not only on the military or security bodies.  

Since 9/11 we teach that the national wall is made up of many bricks, and thus "homeland security" depends on the integration of all of the country's capabilities and organizations. For example, without regulation by Israel's Agriculture Ministry, the IDF is not able to prevent terrorists from producing deadly explosives (TATP) from fertilizer materials, and without the combination of the arms of the Finance Ministry, the Customs Administration, the secret services, the police, and supervision of banks and others, it will be more difficult to fight against the funding of terror and crime entities.     

Every such national challenge requires effective integration of every relevant entity under a combined, national and official command. 

In these kinds of difficult situations, the country also relies on the values, the narrative and the national spirit, and therefore bodies and organizations such as Magen David Adom, ZAKA, Yad Sarah, Ezer Mezion, United Hatzalah, charity groups and volunteer organizations of the various cities (many of these are ultra-orthodox!) are prominent in their deeds. 

The most important thing is that the person standing at the top of the homeland security system is the head of state himself. 

His authority and responsibility provide him with wide vision and full and quick influence (at a relevant time) on the crisis using all of the nation's tools. 

Since this integration requires administrative work, in 1999 Israel established its National Security Council (and in 2008 the NSC law was amended),  the prime minister's headquarters for assistance in combining all of the branches and in utilizing all of the nation's resources, in the work of the headquarters and in managing the campaign. Thus in Israel we see the head of state managing the corona crisis by himself, leading and navigating with the help of the NSC, and personally overseeing the ministries of health, foreign affairs, defense, internal security, welfare, interior, finance and others. 

The head of state also oversees the bodies that are directly subordinate to him such as the Mossad, the Israel Security Agency and others,  all according to the specific advantage of each organization, as it should be done, and amid a crisis such as this one we must not forget that Israel is exposed to various threats, and that the IDF's primary mission is ensuring the security of the country and its borders from an enemy that may take advantage of the opportunity. 

Flexibility, speed and specific advantage are critical at a time of a "black swan", and thus we see the Mossad bringing medical equipment; the Defense Ministry's procurement department functioning in effect as the national procurement department for crisis situations; the ISA tracking the location of COVID-19 carriers; the Health Ministry characterizing needs and providing professional guidance; the Home Front Command dealing with logistics, distributing food and transporting patients to quarantine facilities; IDF technological units developing ventilators; universities operating test labs; commercial companies participating in the repatriation of Israelis from overseas; and organizations assisting in every matter required. The virus is a global enemy threatening every Israeli, and thus every Israeli body needs to join the campaign, and indeed many are doing so.       

There is a lot to learn and there will certainly be lessons drawn, but since it is not possible to prepare for every "black swan" (because then it would not be so black), at a time like now we benefit from being an advanced "startup nation", understand how important our emergency awareness is,  how vital it is for our defense industries to flexibly convert production lines, how good it is that we have scientists, knowledge centers and experts who we never hear anything about during routine times, how important it is that improvisation is part of the Israel DNA, how critical mutual responsibility is, and as I was told by Haim  Koznitzky, a 93-year-old Holocaust survivor and role model, "how good it is that we have our own country".    

(By the way, he told me that during the six years of the Holocaust he didn't eat eggs, and that the current situation isn't so bad) 

When a "black swan" strikes, it is vital to put aside one's ego and only take into account homeland security considerations. From time to time and when needed, priorities can be set and the mission of one body or another can be changed, but the claims for a need to transfer the responsibility and authority for managing the crisis are not relevant and not necessarily professional. 
This is because, in terms of command, control and supervision, the authority and responsibility for command over a national crisis of historic proportions like the corona crisis lie with the head of state (himself), by means of the administrative headquarters (the NSC), government ministries and security bodies, and in my professional opinion he is acting correctly.  

 

The author is a retired IDF brigadier general who is voluntarily assisting the Israeli city of Elad in the struggle against the coronavirus, a member of Likud movement and a senior fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.