Group notes unit alumni include Levin, Herzog, Baharav-Miara

Elite IDF intel unit veterans threaten to boycott reserve duty over legal overhaul

Leaning on intelligence experience, former members of Unit 8200 say they’ve identified ‘telltale signs’ of Israel at risk: ‘Our enemies rub their hands together in glee’

Soldiers of the IDF Intelligence Unit attend a ceremony for the appointment of the new chief of Intelligence at Glilot military base, near Tel Aviv, March 28, 2018.  (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Illustrative -- Soldiers of the IDF Intelligence Unit attend a ceremony at Glilot military base, near Tel Aviv, March 28, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Veterans of the Military Intelligence’s elite Unit 8200 have joined a growing list of army reservists threatening to refuse to perform reserve service in protest of the government’s controversial plans to remake the judiciary.

In a letter published by the Walla news outlet on Monday and addressed to key figures in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, the veterans expressed their fears over the “integrity and security” of the country.

“We, the veterans of Unit 8200, were privileged to serve in the largest and most diverse elite unit in the IDF,” the letter begins, noting that the unit’s members hold a wide range of political and religious views, which they said aids in their intelligence analysis.

The letter listed high-ranking government and judicial officials who are alumni of the prestigious intelligence unit, including Justice Minister Yariv Levin — a key architect of the judicial makeover — as well as Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, President Isaac Herzog and Supreme Court Justice Isaac Amit.

The group said that with the benefit of intelligence experience, it “recognizes a disturbing accumulation of telltale signs that amount to a real concern for the integrity and security of the State of Israel as we know it,” among them the collapse of social cohesion, and harm to the economy and to Israel’s global reputation.

“Some of the damage may soon be permanent, while our enemies rub their hands together in glee,” the letter read.

“It is our duty to sound the alarm and warn of a ‘Yom Kippur’ for Israeli society,” a reference to the 1973 Yom Kippur War, in which an unprepared Israel suffered heavy losses.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin at a discussion and a vote on the government’s judicial overhaul plans in the assembly hall of the Knesset in Jerusalem, on February 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Citing their reasons for opposition, the signatories said that the “great haste” of the judicial overhaul and the absence of a “broad and honest” dialogue on the issue, ignoring the warnings of domestic and international experts, led to the group’s decision to threaten a boycott if the overhaul is passed in current form.

“We will not volunteer for a country that unilaterally changed the basic social contract with its citizens,” the letter declared.

The first stage of the sweeping reforms that are being pushed through the Knesset includes the government granting itself total control over the appointment of judges, including High Court justices; all but eliminating the High Court’s ability to review and strike down legislation; and allowing politicians to appoint — and fire — their own legal advisers.

Critics say the plan will deeply undermine Israel’s democratic character by upsetting its system of checks and balances, granting almost all power to the executive branch and leaving individual rights unprotected and minorities undefended.

Members of Netanyahu’s coalition have vowed to pass other controversial bills, some of which relate to the military.

Israelis take part in protests against controversial legal overhaul being touted by the country’s government, in Tel Aviv on February 25, 2023. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Reports on Sunday said IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi was concerned that growing voices among high-ranking reservists against showing up for duty in protest of the government’s plan to remake the judiciary will harm operational activity and military drills.

After at least 250 officers from the Military Intelligence’s Special Operations Division signed a public petition on the matter last week, it was reported that Halevi is also afraid the current controversy will affect young Israelis’ long-term motivation to join the army. The petitioners joined groups of pilots, tankists, submariners, sailors and other special forces who have penned similar letters in recent weeks.

IDF chief Herzi Halevi tours the scene of a shooting attack in the West Bank town of Huwara, February 25, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

In a speech last week, Halevi called on reservist protesters to leave the controversy over the judicial overhaul outside of the army.

“Two reservists can stand on both sides of the dispute… They will come to reserve duty, put on their uniforms, leave the controversy outside and go on a mission side by side, shoulder to shoulder,” Halevi said at a cadets graduation ceremony at the IDF officers school in southern Israel known as Bahad 1.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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