Coalition official: Greatest harm would be to capitulate

Dozens of ex-security chiefs: Netanyahu ‘directly responsible for harm to security’

Former heads of army, Mossad, Shin Bet back reservists who refuse to volunteer, say overhaul legislation ‘shattering the common foundation of Israeli society’

From left: Former Shin Bet security service head Nadav Argaman in 2019; former prime minister Ehud Barak in 2023; former IDF chief Dan Halutz in 2023 (Flash90; Tomer Neuberg/Flash90, Gili Yaari/Flash90)
From left: Former Shin Bet security service head Nadav Argaman in 2019; former prime minister Ehud Barak in 2023; former IDF chief Dan Halutz in 2023 (Flash90; Tomer Neuberg/Flash90, Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Dozens of former top security officials — including ex-heads of the Israel Defense Forces, Mossad and Shin Bet — sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Saturday calling on him to halt the judicial overhaul legislation to allow for renewed talks, while expressing support for reservists who have threatened to stop volunteering in protest.

They released the statement as the Knesset was set to begin final voting on Sunday to pass a bill that would end judicial scrutiny over the “reasonableness” of top politicians’ decisions.

In the letter, the security chiefs said they hold Netanyahu “directly responsible for the serious harm” to Israel’s security, while accusing him of “completely ignoring the harm to Israeli democracy” caused by the legislation.

“The legislation is shattering the common foundation of Israeli society, tearing the people apart, dismantling the IDF and causing grievous harm to Israel’s security,” they said.

“The legislative process is violating the social contract that has existed for 75 years between thousands of reserve commanders and soldiers,” they wrote, while calling the reservists’ threats “an act of national responsibility for defending Israeli democracy.”

“We expect you to take responsibility,” they added. “Stop the legislation and begin a process of talks with changes to be made only under broad consensus among the people and in the Knesset.”

File: Efraim Halevy, former head of the Mossad, at a conference at the Jerusalem International Convention Center (ICC) on September 3, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Comparing the current climate to “the eve of the Yom Kippur War,” a highly traumatic event for Israel, the signatories said they were “holding up a bright red stop sign in front of you and your government.”

The signatories include former IDF chiefs Ehud Barak, Moshe Ya’alon and Dan Halutz; former Mossad heads Nahum Admoni, Efraim Halevy, Shabtai Shavit, Danny Yatom and Tamir Pardo; former Shin Bet directors Carmi Gillon, Yuval Diskin and Nadav Argaman; several former police commissioners and prison service leaders; and many former military generals.

Apparently responding to the letter, an unnamed senior coalition official said in a statement to several Hebrew media outlets that “The greatest harm to Israel’s security and democracy would be the subordination of the government and Knesset to the dictates of military units.”

The official asserted that “the efforts to reach an agreement on the legislation will continue until the last moment. In the absence of an agreement, the legislation will be passed as planned.”

In comments aired Saturday on Channel 12, former IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot, now an opposition MK and who did not sign the letter, rejected characterizing the growing declarations by reservists as “refusal.”

“In the end, refusal of an order is between a soldier and his commander, while in uniform. What’s happening now is not refusal, it’s a discourse by civilians outside the army. The right to volunteer and to stop volunteering is protected by military orders.”

Former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot speaks during a conference at the Reichman University in Herzliya, May 17, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

He accused Netanyahu of trying to “make this a central issue while diverting the focus from the change of the regime system.”

Eisenkot added: “I find it very difficult to understand his thinking. I was very disappointed to hear [his speech] on Thursday evening. I expect him to look at the national interest.”

On Friday, 1,142 Israeli Air Force reservists, including more than 400 pilots, issued a letter announcing that they will suspend their volunteer reserve duty in protest of the judicial overhaul. Hundreds of reservists from other branches of the military have also said they will no longer volunteer.

Ex-Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin addresses a protest against the planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, on April 22, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of protesters joined a mass march to the Knesset in Jerusalem on Saturday as part of a last-ditch effort to stop the legislative push. The march began in Tel Aviv on Tuesday with just a handful of people, and has swollen by the day to become one of the most resonant events of the seven-month anti-overhaul protest movement.

While the protesters were not deliberately blocking the traffic, their huge numbers meant that there was inevitable disruption.

Organizers then plan to set up tents in Sacher Park near the Knesset, and stay put for an indefinite amount of time, as the coalition readies to pass into law a ban on courts striking down governmental and ministerial decisions based on their “reasonableness.”

Alongside the large protest outside the Knesset on Saturday evening, opponents of the legislation are expected to rally outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem, as well as at Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street as on every weekend.

Hundreds of thousands are expected to rally at over 150 locations nationwide, in the 29th week of protests against the contentious package of legislation proposed by Netanyahu’s hardline government.

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