Officials: Enemies see situation as an opportunity to attack

Gallant warns judicial overhaul tensions may cause harm to national security

At Knesset committee meeting, senior IDF officers warn lawmakers of damage to deterrence, military unity

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

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (center left) and MK Yuli Edelstein (center right) lead a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting, July 31, 2023. (Shahar Yorman/Knesset Spokesperson)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (center left) and MK Yuli Edelstein (center right) lead a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting, July 31, 2023. (Shahar Yorman/Knesset Spokesperson)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant warned at a closed-door meeting of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday that national tensions over the government’s controversial judicial overhaul plans could harm Israel’s security, amid heightened tensions on all fronts.

According to a spokesperson for the committee, Gallant said that “there is harm to national resilience that may lead to harm to national security.”

He also warned that the unity of the military had been damaged as protests against the overhaul have roiled the ranks of the Israel Defense Forces. Thousands of reservists have said they will end their volunteer reserve duty in protest of the overhaul.

“There has been harm to cohesion, and there could be future harm,” Gallant was cited as saying, adding that calls by reservists to refuse to show up due to the legislation must be “condemned and denounced.”

The head of the IDF Operations Directorate, Maj. Gen. Oded Basiuk, was quoted by Hebrew-language media as saying: “I don’t know how long it will take to repair the damage caused to military cohesion.”

Basiuk said the overhaul tensions are “perceived among enemy countries as a weakness and a sign of the internal disintegration of [Israeli] society.”

Illustrative: A graduation ceremony for soldiers who completed the IAF Flight Course, at the Hatzerim Air Base in southern Israel, June 29, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

“They even feel that Israel can be challenged in an unusual way compared to previous years,” Basiuk said, adding that the chances of war with the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon increase daily, while the next conflict is expected to take place on multiple fronts, as had been assessed by the defense establishment in April.

Gallant said that currently “the IDF is capable of carrying out its tasks,” but there were concerns moving forward if things continue in the same vein.

He said Israel’s enemies “believe, mistakenly, that they have the opportunity to take advantage of what they perceive as a weakness.”

“We are in a situation where there is a high explosive potential in all arenas,” Gallant said, referring to heightened tensions on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, and ongoing violence in the West Bank.

Israeli troops guard the border with Lebanon, July 12, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

Likud MK Yuli Edelstein, chair of the committee, said the lawmakers were gathering in order to “assist the IDF and security services to be fit and ready.”

Military officials speaking at the meeting warned the lawmakers that Israel’s “enemies see the situation as an opportunity to attack,” according to leaks by Hebrew media.

Brig. Gen. Amit Saar, head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate’s research department, told the members of the committee that Israel’s ability to establish a “credible military threat” against Iran had been “undermined” amid the tensions over the judicial overhaul and Israel’s weakened relations with the US.

Several Likud MKs, according to Hebrew media, slammed the senior IDF officers, saying: “What do you understand about legal matters? Why are you interfering with legislation?”

A day before the Knesset gave its final approval to a law that prevents courts from reviewing the “reasonableness” of government and ministerial decisions, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi sent a “detailed position paper” to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was hospitalized for cardiac care at the time.

According to a military source, the paper detailed Israel’s “security situation, the strategic implications, and the implications for the competence and cohesion of the IDF” should the bill pass. “The prime minister read this document,” the IDF source said.

Shortly before the vote on the “reasonableness” bill last Monday, at the request of Netanyahu and Gallant, the IDF sent two generals to the Knesset to brief senior ministers on the threat to the military’s readiness.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) speaks with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant during a vote on the so-called reasonableness bill at the Knesset, July 24, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

But only three ministers agreed to be briefed by Basiuk and the head of the Military Intelligence Directorate, Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva. Channel 12 named the ministers as Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter, Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel and Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, with the latter briefed over the phone.

For several weeks, as the government advanced the first major bill of its judicial overhaul, a tide that rose to more than 10,000 reservists who frequently show up for duty on a voluntary basis said they would no longer do so. The reservists have warned they will not be able to serve in an undemocratic Israel, which some charge the country will become if the government’s overhaul plans are realized.

The IDF relies heavily on volunteering reservists, especially pilots, for its routine activities. Defense officials have said pilots could harm their competency by taking breaks from their frequent training exercises, and it would take a significant amount of time to restore their flying abilities.

Halevi has appealed to the protesting reservists to show up for duty anyway, while also saying the refusal to serve harms national security.

“We embrace the reservists for who they are, praise those who chose to report for duty under any conditions, and call on everyone to come back and report,” Halevi told a group of senior officers on Monday.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi speaks to senior officers at the Glilot military base near Herzliya, July 31, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

“The IDF is the people’s army, a model that has been working for 75 years. Today, just as it was then, everyone must come to serve in the standing army and in the reserves,” he said, according to quotes provided by the military.

Regarding the judicial overhaul, Halevi said: “Everyone has an opinion that is equally important. We as wearers of uniform are not involved in that.”

“I very much trust the capabilities of the IDF and especially its people… it is good that these are the people,” he added.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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