ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 139

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Helicopter pilots’ course said shortened after volunteer instructors refuse to show up

Haaretz report says 18 of 40 helicopter training reservists suspended their service to protest judicial overhaul, forcing military to shave five flight hours from program

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

An Israeli Air Force UH-60 Black Hawk flies during a demonstration at a graduation ceremony for new IAF pilots, at the Hatzerim Air Base in the Negev desert, June 29, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)
An Israeli Air Force UH-60 Black Hawk flies during a demonstration at a graduation ceremony for new IAF pilots, at the Hatzerim Air Base in the Negev desert, June 29, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

The Israeli Air Force has reduced the number of flight hours in one of the stages of its helicopter pilots course, according to a Sunday report, after nearly half of the instructors — volunteer reservists  — refused to show up for duty in protest of the government’s judicial overhaul.

Earlier this month, nearly 1,200 IAF reservists, including 91 training staff, signed a letter announcing that they would suspend their volunteer reserve duty if the government advances the judicial overhaul.

According to Haaretz (Hebrew link), 18 of 40 helicopter instructors notified their superiors that they would no longer show up for volunteer duty, causing the IAF to reduce the number of flight hours required by pilot cadets before passing a certain stage in the course.

The report said five flight hours, or 0.5 percent of the total hours in the stage, were shaved off to enable the current number of instructors to continue the training without extending the length of the course.

Sources in the IAF told Haaretz that they anticipated more instructors to halt their volunteer service too, which would force the military to cut back on flights.

The Israel Defense Forces did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the report.

Israeli military reservists sign a declaration of refusal to report for duty to protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, Israel, July 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

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. Unlike most reservists who are called up for duty with a formal order for several days a year, pilots and other special forces are expected to train and carry out missions more frequently and in a voluntary manner due to the nature of their positions.

The IAF and other top units also rely on veterans to volunteer and train the newer generation with their expertise.

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.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi has appealed to the protesting reservists to show up for duty anyway, while also saying the refusal to serve harms national security.

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