ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 145

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'Competence has been harmed, is harmed and will be harmed'

IDF said to warn MKs: Military readiness weakening, enemies recognize what’s happening

At closed-door committee meeting on impact of judicial overhaul rift, senior officers provide lawmakers with ‘detailed report on competence and readiness,’ plans for future

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

File: Israeli military reservists protest against the plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to overhaul the judicial system, on a freeway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, on Feb. 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg, File)
File: Israeli military reservists protest against the plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to overhaul the judicial system, on a freeway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, on Feb. 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg, File)

Senior military officials on Wednesday briefed lawmakers on the readiness of the army amid tensions over the judicial overhaul, during a closed-door meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, warning them that the competence of the Israel Defense Forces would “weaken” further, according to leaks.

A Knesset spokesperson said the senior IDF officers provided the lawmakers with a “detailed report on the competence and readiness of the army in the face of existing and future needs.”

More than 10,000 reservists who show up for duty on a voluntary basis have said in recent weeks that they would no longer do so in protest of the judicial overhaul, charging that the government’s plans will turn Israel into an undemocratic country.

No official figures have been made available on how many reservists have failed to show up for duty thus far.

“In the meeting, the matter of preparations for future effects of the public controversy on the military’s competence and readiness was brought up,” the spokesperson said.

“Additionally, the matter of dealing with those who fail to show up for duty was brought up. The phenomenon is being handled and the steps to prevent its spread were presented,” the spokesperson added.

The Ynet news site reported that the IDF officials told the MKs that there was a negative impact on readiness mainly in the Air Force and Military Intelligence Directorate, and less so in the various infantry battalions.

File: Israeli Air Force pilots walk to their plane during the ‘Blue Flag’ international exercise at the Ovda airbase in southern Israel on October 24, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

According to leaks from the meeting published by Channel 12 news, the senior officers told the lawmakers that the military’s readiness “was weakening,” and while the damage was currently limited to certain areas of the IDF, it would likely spread further amid the reservists’ protests.

“Calls to not show up for duty, on one hand, and remarks attacking pilots [on the other], bring about harm to the motivation [to serve] and the cohesion [of the ranks]. Both cause the phenomenon of not showing up for duty to spread,” said the head of the IDF’s Operations Directorate, Maj. Gen. Oded Basiuk, according to Channel 12.

The Kan public broadcaster cited Basiuk as saying: “The competence has been harmed, is harmed and will be harmed.”

Channel 13 news, meanwhile, said Basiuk warned the lawmakers that Israel’s enemies “recognize that this time, what is happening in Israel, is a different, real event.”

Maj. Gen. Oded Basiuk, chief of the IDF Operations Directorate, attends a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, July 18, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The meeting was jointly held with members of two other defense-related subcommittees.

Most Israelis who complete their mandatory military national service are required to attend annual reserve duty, but those who served in special units — including pilots — are expected to volunteer to continue carrying out the same duties while in the reserves, a commitment they usually take upon themselves.

Due to the nature of their positions, special forces troops and pilots in reserves show up more frequently for training and missions as well as to be instructors for new conscripts.

As the reservists’ revolt spread to some of the armed forces’ most elite units and divisions, military leaders have struggled to stay sanguine on the issue publicly, with the IDF’s top spokesman admitting last week that “there is limited harm in some areas.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (second from right) attends a security briefing during an IDF operation in Jenin on July 3, 2023. At left is IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, and next to him is Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. Ronen Bar, head of the Shin Bet is at center. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, Air Force head Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar and others have warned that the reservist protests are having an increasingly negative impact on military readiness, drawing rebukes from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, other lawmakers, and supporters of the far-right, religious government.

Netanyahu’s coalition has rejected the reservists’ protests as a dangerous and unprecedented form of political blackmail by the military. Some coalition lawmakers suggested the protest was tantamount to an attempted military coup.

Security officials voiced concern on Monday that, by allowing repeated public attacks on top military brass, Netanyahu is trying to shift responsibility onto them over the current harm to the state of military readiness.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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