100 elite Air Force reservists also threaten to stop serving

Hundreds of elite IDF reservists say they will stop showing up beginning Sunday

Officers and soldiers who volunteer for reserve duty in Military Intelligence’s Special Operations Division and cyber warfare units cite Knesset vote Sunday barring a PM’s recusal

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

Hundreds of elite IDF reservists announced Thursday that they would halt their volunteer service as of this coming Sunday, making good on a threat issued several weeks ago in response to the government’s plans to radically alter the judicial system.

Officers and soldiers in the Military Intelligence’s Special Operations Division and cyber warfare units said they will stop showing up for volunteer duty as of next week.

“The pistol is pressed firmly to the bedrock of democracy, and the trigger will soon be pulled,” the protest organizers wrote in a statement, citing the government’s plans to hold the final Knesset votes Sunday on legislation that would severely limit courts or lawmakers from removing an unfit prime minister from office.

Organizers of the group, which said they include 450 reservists in special operations and 200 in cyber warfare, will therefore “not show up for volunteer reserve service” beginning Sunday.

“We don’t have a contract with a dictator. We’ll be happy to resume volunteering when democracy is ensured,” they added in a written statement circulated to the media.

Separately Thursday, 100 senior reserve officers in an elite Air Force unit issued a letter saying they were unsure that they can continue to serve moving forward under such a regime.

IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi holds a meeting with reserve soldiers on March 8, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

According to a Channel 12 news report, the officers are part of an elite operational unit of the Air Force, who wrote that their “conscience may not allow us to continue serving in the reserves.”

A lieutenant colonel in the unit said that concerned officers have been working behind the scenes to make their voices heard, but the government’s wholesale rejection of President Isaac Herzog’s alternative framework on Wednesday night forced them to go public.

Calls among IDF reservists to refuse to serve due to the government’s legislative efforts have roiled the military in recent weeks, growing in number even as they are condemned by senior politicians in both the opposition and the coalition.

In late February, more than 100 reservists in the Military Intelligence’s Special Operations Division issued an open letter first warning of plans to end their volunteer service if a broad compromise on the overhaul is not reached.

“We have served with endless sacrifice this country, which we love so much, but we will not volunteer for reserves in the Special Operations Division when a huge black flag flies over the actions of the government,” the letter read, at the time signed by more than 100 people — whose ranks have purportedly quadrupled since.

And a week later, around 150 soldiers from cyber warfare units similarly warned they would stop volunteering for the reserves if the overhaul is approved, writing that the “legitimacy to use advanced cyber capabilities exists only because Israel is a democratic-liberal country, in which there is a strong and independent judicial system that allows for balance between the branches.”

Therefore, they added at the time, “a governing system without judicial review is liable to use the cyber capabilities that we develop in an immoral way that contradicts democratic values.”

IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi speaks at a military ceremony for reservist troops at Tel Aviv University, March 12, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Such letters and calls have been joined in recent weeks by reservists in virtually every branch of the military, including fighter jet pilots, undercover infantry officers, submariners, sailors, helicopter pilots and others.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has said that reservists’ threats to refuse to serve if the government’s judicial overhaul is passed harm national security.

In a speech on Sunday, IDF chief Herzi Halevi said “the IDF will not be able to act without the spirit of volunteering of the reservists and their willingness [to serve], which depends on the preservation of the IDF as the people’s army in a democratic Jewish state.”

Opposition figures have said they sympathize with the sentiment behind the reservists’ calls, but have said they cannot support such moves.

“I am against refusal. I don’t think it’s the way. I understand the pain, the sorrow, the dread, and the fury. I think it’s a mistake. We have one army, and there must not be refusal,” opposition leader Yair Lapid said last week.

National Unity party leader Benny Gantz — a former IDF chief and former defense minister — said recently that IDF reservists must “continue to serve, to show up no matter what, to protect this country with protests and to protect it with [military] forays… despite the pain.”

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