The chief spokesperson of the Israel Defense Forces acknowledged Tuesday that the thousands of soldiers who have threatened to refuse to report for volunteer reserve duty in protest of the government’s judicial overhaul have caused a degree of harm to the army’s readiness, warning that divisions within the ranks due to the ongoing political crisis could take significant time to heal.
“You asked about [military] fitness — the IDF is ready for war, but there is limited harm in some areas,” Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said in a Channel 12 interview, highlighting the Israeli Air Force as one branch that has been particularly harmed by reservists refusing to show up for volunteer duty.
Hagari pointed to the IAF’s flight school, where some reservist pilots opposed to the overhaul volunteer as instructors: “People who leave everything, once a week, and go to train the young pilots. A significant number are deciding not to come.”
The IDF spokesperson clarified that the flight school still “functions and will continue to function,” but he warned of damage down the road if pilots with “great expertise” do not train their successors.
Hagari said that IDF brass is working to contain the damage by holding one-on-one meetings with reservists. “They all have different red lines and look at things differently, but they’re very emotional about this.”
“It’s a turbulent period in the country, and it’s impacting the IDF,” Hagari added.
His comments come after a report last week said the IAF reduced flight hours in one stage of its helicopter pilots course after nearly half of the volunteer reservist instructors refused to show up for duty in protest of the ruling coalition’s plans for weakening the judiciary.
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 implements its overhaul.
It is unclear exactly how many of the 10,000 reservists have already stopped showing up for volunteer duty. Organizers of a letter of nearly 1,200 Israeli Air Force reservists who announced their intention to end their volunteer service said last month that some 60 percent had notified their commanders that they would no longer show up for duty, after the first overhaul bill was passed.
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 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 posts.
The IAF and other top units also rely on veterans to volunteer and train the newer generation.
Defense officials say pilots risk harming their competency by taking breaks from their frequent training exercises and that it will take a significant amount of time to restore their flying capabilities.
IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi has appealed to the protesting reservists to show up for duty, while also saying the refusal to serve harms national security.
Far-right coalition MKs’ comments ‘hurting the IDF’
In the Tuesday Channel 12 interview, Hagari was also asked about recent broadsides by some far-right coalition members against senior security figures who have recognized growing settler violence in the West Bank.
“These comments hurt the IDF, and it would be better if they were not said. IDF commanders and soldiers serve night and day to defend Israel,” he said.
“It’s not just [IDF Central Command chief Yehuda Fox]. It’s also the rest of the commanders, and ultimately he is now carrying them all behind him.” he said.
Hagari noted that the IDF has intensified its activity in the West Bank due to the ongoing security deterioration, which has included attacks by both Palestinians and settlers.
Typically there are 13 battalions in the West Bank, but over the past 18 months, that number has fluctuated because of an anti-terror offensive, following a series of deadly Palestinian terror attacks, reaching a height of 26 battalions in October 2022.
Citing “the very complex period for Israeli society,” Hagari also called to keep the IDF “united” and out of political debates.
“Fitness can be restored rather quickly, but cohesion is long-term.”
Nonetheless, all of our enemies know that the IDF is a strong military capable of dealing with any challenge,” the army spokesperson insisted.
Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.