IDF chief to meet pilots, officers as judicial overhaul protests roil military

Herzi Halevi to discuss ‘necessity of preventing’ calls for refusal to serve over government’s legal shakeup; he will not sit down with 37 pilots boycotting day of training

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

IDF chief of staff Herzi Halevi assumes the military's top post at a swearing-in ceremony at IDF Headquarters in Tel Aviv, January 16, 2023 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
IDF chief of staff Herzi Halevi assumes the military's top post at a swearing-in ceremony at IDF Headquarters in Tel Aviv, January 16, 2023 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Military chief Herzi Halevi is slated to meet with pilots, officers, and other troops this week over concerns that reserve soldiers protesting the government’s judicial overhaul will refuse to show up for service or training, the Israel Defense Forces said Monday.

In a statement, the IDF said Halevi would meet Tuesday with reserves pilots and air force commanders, and on Wednesday with officers from an array of reserve units.

Halevi has warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the protests’ entry into the military could harm its operational capabilities.

“The chief of staff will speak to the commanders about the necessity of preventing calls for refusal, maintaining the readiness of the IDF, its competence, and the cohesion of the ranks,” the IDF said.

The top general will not hold a sit-down with the 37 pilots of a 40-man Israeli Air Force fighter jet squadron who announced that they would not show up to one of their planned training sessions later this week in protest of the overhaul, a military source said.

They were the highest-profile group in a growing list of IDF units, including some of the most elite, that have seen members threaten to not show up amid widescale opposition to the government’s plans that critics say will harm Israel’s democracy, economy and security.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant was also to hold a meeting on Tuesday with a number of reservists from various units at his office in Tel Aviv, the Defense Ministry said. Halevi was due to participate in that meeting as well.

File: An IAF F-15I fighter jet of the 69th squadron takes off from the Hatzerim Airbase in southern Israel, during a pilots graduation ceremony, June 22, 2022. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

Earlier Monday, all of the living former chiefs of the IAF issued a letter to Netanyahu and Gallant, expressing their worry over the government’s continued push to radically restrict the power of the judiciary.

On Friday, dozens of senior pilots held an unprecedented meeting with the current IAF chief, Tomer Bar, in which they expressed major concerns about their continued service in the reserves.

The pilot reservists who continue to do active service reportedly expressed fears that the new hardline government’s conduct could expose them to prosecution by global bodies such as the International Criminal Court.

Israel has long argued against such probes, pointing to the strength and independence of its own judiciary, which is responsible for investigating incidents of wrongdoing by Israeli forces. But critics of the government’s legal overhaul warn that efforts to restrict the High Court of Justice’s power will rob the country of legitimacy in the international arena.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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