With the United States still struggling to contain the rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 infections, international exchange of ideas and solutions will be vital to understanding and subduing this virus. Washington should look to one of its strongest allies, Israel, as a key partner in this endeavor. In fact, cooperation between the Israeli Home Front Command and the U.S. National Guard Bureau on confronting the coronavirus is already in the works.
Formed in 1992, the Israeli Home Front Command functions similarly to the National Guard. Both work to save lives and protect property in response to man-made crises and natural disasters. The Home Front Command’s expertise and capabilities include: urban search and rescue, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear response, and assisting the civilian population during crisis and recovery. Understandably, offering medical assistance is an essential capability integral to each of these mission sets.
Since 2006 there has been a strong, strategic partnership between the Israeli Home Front Command and the U.S. National Guard that has focused on exchanging best-practices and performing joint training exercises in their areas of expertise. This collaboration began under the leadership of LT. Gen. H. Steven Blum, 25th Chief of the National Guard Bureau. In 2009, the Homeland Defense Cooperation - Terms of Reference (HDC) were signed after approval by U.S. Department of State, U.S. European Command, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Israeli Ministry of Defense. This agreement has regulated the sharing of information technologies, tactics, techniques, and procedures associated with homeland defense and security.
Not long after the HDC agreement came into effect, Haiti experienced a destructive earthquake and the Israeli government offered immediate medical assistance. In coordination with the United States and Haiti, rescue teams from the Israeli Home Front Command and the Israeli Defense Force Medical Corps deployed a field hospital in record time. This hospital treated over a thousand patients and performed 319 successful surgeries along with numerous other medical procedures during its 12-day emergency deployment.
During my four-year tenure as 27th chief of the National Guard Bureau, I met twice a year with the Israeli Home Front Command Commander in either Israel or in the United States. These meetings reviewed the current status of our security cooperation efforts to ensure that our organizations remained on track to meet the training and preparedness objectives that we had been set by our respective commands. This strategic relationship played an essential part in furthering my understanding of Middle Eastern geopolitics while I served as one of the seven members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Consequently, I can personally attest that the sharing of lessons learned, technology and equipment enhancements, as well as the innovations in techniques used during real-world disasters and recoveries has provided invaluable information and assistance to the primary military homeland responders in both countries.
The Israeli Home Front Command and the National Guard have been in contact during the COVID-19 pandemic and have exchanged critical information, adjusted training and exercises planned for this year, and shared lessons learned.
One recent example of collaboration involves the conversion of hotels to hospitals. As the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced a plan to expand hospital beds for American cities suffering from the huge demand placed on hospitals for more capacity, the Israeli Home Front Command offered to share their lessons learned during similar design and construction efforts in Israel. This expansion of hospital-bed capacity continues to be a critical asset to many mayors and governors as they plan for and respond to the medical needs of their residents.
Enhanced cooperation to fight the coronavirus is augmented by the long-term exchange of liaison officers (LNOs), major or lieutenant colonel in rank, between the Israeli Home Front Command and National Guard cemented in the HDC agreement. This embedded exchange enables both organizations’ leaders to share immediate information for real world events, training and exercise guidance, and future planning. The LNO exchange is a key factor in successful sharing of domestic operations best practice, as was the case with the hotels to hospitals concept.
As the world community continues to confront this viral enemy that has already claimed tens of thousands of innocent lives, I am confident that the American medical community and its first responders along with federal and state government leaders will benefit from continued collaboration between Israel and the United States — especially between the Israeli Home Front Command and the National Guard Bureau.
Ultimately, it will take a dedicated global effort to develop the necessary capabilities to mitigate the worst effects of the coronavirus right now and to formulate a longer-term solution; the United States will undoubtedly be better positioned by working alongside Israel to meet this common challenge.
Retired Army Gen. Frank J. Grass was the 27th chief of the National Guard Bureau and a participant on JINSA’s 2019 Generals and Admirals Program to Israel.
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