IDF brass said to warn Gallant of threat to readiness due to reservists’ protests

Reports say defense minister and military chief considering airing concerns to Netanyahu in coming days, as more reservists threaten to suspend duty over judicial overhaul

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

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (left) meets with IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, at military headquarters in Tel Aviv on January 16, 2023. (Ariel Hermoni/ Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (left) meets with IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, at military headquarters in Tel Aviv on January 16, 2023. (Ariel Hermoni/ Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant reportedly held an emergency meeting Sunday with Israel Defense Forces’ chief Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi and other top officers to discuss the possible fallout if military reservists — particularly pilots — stop showing up for volunteer duty in protest of the government’s judicial overhaul.

Unsourced details of the meeting were published by all Hebrew-language media outlets as Israel’s main evening news programs were broadcast, in what appeared to be a coordinated leak from either the military or Gallant’s office.

The reports said Gallant and Chief of Staff Halevi were considering speaking in the coming days with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to relay the concerns over the potential negative impact on military readiness.

In recent weeks, protests against the judicial overhaul have rippled through the IDF, with reservists from dozens of units joining in threats to end their voluntary service. According to a list published Sunday, nearly 4,000 reservists have signed letters threatening to not show up for duty in protest of the planned changes to the judiciary.

Members of the IDF General Staff, a forum of senior commanders responsible for the various branches and departments of the military, reportedly warned Gallant of the growing list of reservists who have threatened to suspend their volunteer duty, which could impact the military’s readiness.

The IDF, according to the unsourced reports on Sunday, had not detected any immediate harm to the army’s readiness, but was regularly holding assessments to determine whether such a point is nearing.

Members of the Brothers in Arms protest group demonstrate against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, outside the home of Speaker of the Knesset Amir Ohana in Tel Aviv, on June 6, 2023.(Avshalom Sassoni/ Flash90)

The reports said that while the readiness of the IDF was not immediately impacted, there were signs of harm to the “internal cohesion” of the military, as more and more open letters against the overhaul were published.

Unlike most reservists who are called up for duty with a formal order from the IDF, 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 military has said that it would discipline or potentially dismiss active-duty soldiers who refuse to show up for duty when ordered to, but stressed that no action would be taken against reservists who only threaten not to show up.

It is unclear what measures would be taken against reservists who do not show up for voluntary duty.

Reservists — who are a key part of the army’s routine activities, including in top units — have been warning in recent months 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.

Illustrative: Three pilots stand in front of an F-16 fighter jet as it takes off from the Israeli Air Force’s 117th Squadron, which was closed on September 30, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

The calls to refuse to show up for reserve duty started roiling the military earlier this year, as the judicial overhaul was first announced and as it advanced, growing in number even as they were condemned by senior politicians in both the opposition and the coalition. The threats again increased in recent weeks, as the government resumed moving ahead in the Knesset with some elements of the plan, after largely pausing the legislation in March following pressure by reservists on Gallant.

Gallant in late March publicly warned that the rift over the overhaul was causing divides in the military that posed a tangible threat to Israeli security. In response to that warning, Netanyahu ordered Gallant’s firing, a move that sparked intensified national protests, in turn leading Netanyahu to temporarily suspend the legislation for three months and withdraw Gallant’s dismissal.

The coalition is currently advancing a key bill from the package — legislation aimed at preventing courts from invalidating or even discussing government and ministers’ decisions based on their “reasonableness.” It aims to pass the bill into law by month’s end.

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