Ex-Air Force chief disavows reservist refusals, warns of chaos without compromise

Eliezer Shkedi says legislation on overhaul must be halted and deal reached to prevent fatal rupture of society; would side with courts in clash with Knesset if he were heading IAF

Former Air Force chief Eliezer Shkedi, in a Channel 12 interview on March 6, 2023 (Channel 12 screenshot)
Former Air Force chief Eliezer Shkedi, in a Channel 12 interview on March 6, 2023 (Channel 12 screenshot)

A former commander of the Israeli Air Force spoke out against members of the military who are threatening to refuse to show up for reserve duty — but warned harshly that the government’s judicial overhaul plan must be halted in its tracks.

In a lengthy interview with Channel 12 news on Monday, Maj. Gen. (res.) Eliezer Shkedi said that service refusal as a protest against the government is a “dangerous precedent” that could lead to dire results for the state.

But he also urged the government to halt its legislative blitz on the overhaul and instead work out a compromise with the opposition, warning against a possible “insane” outcome and “legal chaos” if a deal isn’t reached.

Earlier this week, 37 pilots out of a 40-man Israeli Air Force fighter jet squadron announced that they would not show up to one of their planned training sessions in protest of the overhaul, a military source said.

They were the highest-profile group in a growing list of IDF units, including some of the most elite, that have seen members threaten to not show up amid widescale opposition to coalition plans that critics say will harm Israel’s democracy, economy and security.

Asked if he thought the pilots would nonetheless show up for a key security mission such as to attack Syria or Iran, Shkedi was confident they would. “There is no way they wouldn’t,” he asserted.

Illustrative: Fighter jets from the IAF’s second F-35 squadron, the Lions of the South, fly over southern Israel. (Israel Defense Forces)

“There are two central issues,” Shkedi said. “One, the legislation must be stopped at every point and a [compromise] solution found. We must. Immediately, tomorrow, today.

“Secondly, I personally think that, at the moment in time that we are at, it is forbidden to generate refusal [to serve] of any kind. Refusal is forbidden because we must not play into the hands of the enemy,” he said.

He warned against an “insane” scenario in which no compromise deal is reached, the judicial overhaul is passed in the Knesset but the High Court strikes it down, bringing “total chaos.”

“The citizens, and certainly the heads of organizations, would need to decide what they are going to do,” he said.

Israeli reserve soldiers, veterans and activists rally outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, protesting against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, on February 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I don’t know what will happen here if we end up in legal chaos. I have never come across a situation where the commander of the Air Force, the chief of staff, the head of the Mossad, or the police commissioner has to decide whether he listens to an executive authority or to a court decision,” Shkedi said.

In such a situation, he added, “if I were the head of the Air Force, there is no way in the world… that I would not obey a court decision.

“I don’t dare to say what could happen. If someone wants an idea, they should think about what happened in the destruction of the Second Temple, what happened in Jerusalem.”

The Second Temple period ended with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE during a period of violent infighting among Israelite factions that is seen as having stymied their ability to fight the Roman invaders.

“In my opinion, something could come about here that no one can imagine,” Shkedi said. “I don’t even want to go into specific details because it shocks me to think about it.”

IAF commander Tomer Bar (right) meets with technicians at the Nevatim Airbase in southern Israel, during an evaluation of F-35 ejector seats, July 31, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

He rejected comparisons to the 2005 unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, which was also opposed by large segments of society but was agreed to by the executive, legislative and judicial branches.

“This is simply not the same situation,” he said.

Shkedi would neither confirm nor deny that current Air Force commander Tomer Bar has consulted with him in recent weeks. But Bar should lobby the most senior military and political echelons to make it clear “he is worried about the situation,” Shkedi advised.

“After all,” he added, “there is no one who isn’t worried. In my opinion, the prime minister is also worried. He understands that this is a serious, crazy matter.”

Shkedi was among 10 former Air Force commanders who signed a letter to Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant this week, expressing their worry over the government’s continued push of the judicial plan.

“From a deep familiarity with the central and special weight of the [Air] Force in national security, which you are well aware of, we are fearful over the consequences of these processes and the serious and tangible danger posed to the national security of the State of Israel,” the letter said.

IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi is set to meet with air force reserve pilots, officers, and other troops this week over snowballing concerns over reserve soldiers refusing to turn up for duty. Halevi has warned Netanyahu that allowing the protests to make their way into the military could harm its operational capabilities.

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