Gallant: Refusal calls are 'playing with fire'

IDF chief Halevi says reservists ‘don’t have the right’ to refuse to show up for duty

With renewed threats by reserve soldiers over judicial overhaul, military chief says IDF must remain ready amid heightened tensions across region

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

L-R: Incoming commander of the IDF Southern Command Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman, IDF chief Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, and outgoing head of the Southern Command Maj. Gen. Eliezer Toledano, at the unit's base in Beersheba, July 9, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)
L-R: Incoming commander of the IDF Southern Command Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman, IDF chief Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, and outgoing head of the Southern Command Maj. Gen. Eliezer Toledano, at the unit's base in Beersheba, July 9, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

Military chief Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi on Sunday said reservists “don’t have the right” to refuse to show up for duty, amid heightened security tensions and threats by members of the army reserves to stop serving in response to the government’s plans to overhaul the judiciary.

“These days require us to focus on the security mission and the cohesion that supports it, so we can be ready for any challenge and in any arena,” Halevi said at a handover ceremony for the head of the Israel Defense Forces’ Southern Command.

“We do not have the right, in the current reality, not to show up for every challenge and task,” Halevi said at the IDF Southern Command base in Beersheba.

Tensions have been high across the region in recent weeks, following a string of Palestinian  terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank, a major military operation in the Palestinian city of Jenin, rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, alleged Israeli airstrikes in Syria, anti-tank missile fire from Lebanon, and provocative actions by the Hezbollah terror group.

Meanwhile, there have been calls among IDF reservists to refuse to serve due to the government’s legislative efforts to weaken the judiciary.

Those calls roiled the military earlier this year as the judicial overhaul was first announced and advanced, growing in number even as they were condemned by senior politicians in both the opposition and the coalition. The threats have again increased in recent weeks as the government has resumed moving ahead in the Knesset with certain elements of the plan, after largely pausing the legislation in March following pressure by reservists on Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

Israeli reserve soldiers and activists protest against the Israeli government’s planned judicial overhaul, in Bnei Brak, March 16, 2023. (Flash90)

At the cabinet meeting on Sunday, Gallant reportedly said that such renewed calls for refusal are “playing with fire.”

Such a move “is a prize to our enemies, and you heard just now how serious our challenges are,” Gallant told ministers, according to the Ynet news site. “We cannot come to terms with a situation in which there are those who are using the IDF and the security bodies to advance their political opinions through threatening or calling for refusal to serve.”

The past two weeks have seen a number of letters from hundreds of reservists in various elite units warning that they would refuse to volunteer for duty if the judicial overhaul went ahead.

On Saturday night, thousands of IDF reservists held an overnight protest outside Gallant’s home in hopes he would intervene again and help halt the overhaul.

The military has said that it would discipline soldiers who refuse to show up for duty when ordered to, but stressed that no action would be taken against reservists who at this stage are only threatening not to show up.

Reservists protest against the government’s judicial overhaul, outside the home of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in Moshav Amikam, on July 8, 2023 (Shir Torem/Flash90)

At the ceremony on Sunday, Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman replaced Maj. Gen. Eliezer Toledano, who had served in the position since 2021 and led the Southern Command during three major operations: Guardian of the Walls, Breaking Dawn, and Shield and Arrow.

Toledano will be appointed as the officer in charge of Iran affairs and the Strategic Planning Division.

Speaking at the ceremony, Toledano noted the IDF’s efforts against the Hamas terror group in Gaza.

“As long as stability remains, we will allow orderly life in the Strip. But we will prevent [weapons] buildup in any way possible. We will respond forcefully against any violation of the calm, and during a deterioration toward an escalation, we will refrain from treading water and [instead] launch a campaign,” he said.

Finkelman, who previously headed the Operations Division in the IDF Operations Directorate, said he “was aware of the weight of responsibility” upon becoming the head of the Southern Command.

“We will act with the values of the IDF guiding us, with deep thinking, vigilance, readiness, initiative, transformation, and striving for victory,” Finkelman said.

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