10 ex-IAF chiefs pen letter to PM amid reservist protest: ‘Stop, find a solution’

The reserve major generals say they are ‘deeply concerned’ over refusal to serve due to planned judicial shakeup; 300 Artillery Corps reservists also join calls against overhaul

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks with Amir Eshel, the Commander in Chief of the Israel Air Force, at Tel Nof Airofrce base, on August 17, 2016. (Flash90)
File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks with Amir Eshel, the Commander in Chief of the Israel Air Force, at Tel Nof Airofrce base, on August 17, 2016. (Flash90)

All of the living former chiefs of the Israeli Air Force on Monday issued a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, expressing their worry over the government’s continued push to radically restrict the power of the judiciary, amid protests by pilots and aircrews.

“We are following with deep concern the processes taking place in the State of Israel and in the Air Force these days,” the former IAF chiefs wrote.

“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.

On Sunday, nearly all reservist members of an IAF jet squadron announced that they would not show up to one of their planned training sessions later this week in protest of the overhaul, sparking warnings from both Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi and Gallant that such protests could harm the military’s operational capabilities.

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

“The core of the [Air] Force’s strength is the special cohesion of its servicepeople, standing and reserves. The corps members are all motivated by a deep sense of mission and belief in the righteousness of our way,” the former chiefs said.

“We support the commander of the Air Force and his people at this difficult time and appeal to you to stop and find a solution to the emerging situation as soon as possible,” the letter added.

The letter was signed by Maj. Gen. (res.) Dan Tolkowsky, Maj. Gen. (res.) David Ivry, Maj. Gen. (res.) Avihu Ben-Nun, Maj. Gen. (res.) Herzl Bodinger, Maj. Gen. (res.) Eitan Ben Eliyahu, Lt. Gen. (res.) Dan Halutz, Maj. Gen. (res.) Eliezer Shkedi, Maj. Gen. (res.) Ido Nehoshtan, Maj. Gen. (res.) Amir Eshel, and Maj. Gen. (res.) Amikam Norkin.

Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar, the new chief of the Israeli Air Force, at a ceremony on April 4, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

On Friday, dozens of senior pilots held an unprecedented meeting with the current IAF chief, Tomer Bar, in which they expressed major concerns about their continued service in the reserves.

The pilot reservists who continue to do active service reportedly expressed fear that the new hardline government’s conduct could expose them to prosecution by global bodies such as the International Criminal Court.

Israel has long argued against such probes, pointing to the strength and independence of its own judiciary, which is responsible for investigating incidents of wrongdoing by Israeli forces. But critics of the government’s legal overhaul warn that efforts to restrict the High Court of Justice’s power will rob the country of legitimacy in the international arena.

Later on Friday, Bar penned a letter to all IAF reserve members that was leaked to the media, in which he wrote that he expects them to continue to report for duty. He clarified that the IDF and the IAF would operate “according to the moral standards and according to the values and spirit of the IDF — without any change.”

Also on Monday, some 300 reservists of the Artillery Corps, including several senior officers, penned a letter to Gallant and Halevi, saying they were joining calls opposing the judicial overhaul.

File: Israeli soldiers hold an artillery drill in the Golan Heights, on March 28, 2022. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

“The regime coup will cause Israel to cease to be a democratic state in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence and cease to be the state for which we fought for,” the letter read.

In a statement on Friday, the IDF said that it was “conducting an ongoing situational assessment and command dialogue in view of the recent events.

Halevi directed the members of the General Staff Forum to hold a command dialogue, each commander with his own unit. He emphasized that he is aware of the public discourse and the controversy but will not allow harm to the IDF’s ability to carry out operations and maintain the security of the state.

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