The military warned on Tuesday that combat readiness may soon be harmed if reservist troops do not show up for duty over a lengthy period of time, amid efforts to insulate the army from national tensions over the government’s controversial judicial overhaul.
Thousands of reservists have threatened to end their volunteer reserve duty in protest of the overhaul in recent weeks, sparking alarm from defense brass, including IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, who issued a rare video statement Tuesday calling for unity within the military.
The IDF has said that the “cohesion,” or unity of the IDF has already been harmed amid the protests against the judicial overhaul, and it will take time to fix.
The military claims it is still fully battle-ready, but harm to the IDF’s readiness has already begun.
Should the thousands of reservists in key positions continue to not show up for duty, actual damage to the IDF’s “competence” may occur within weeks, according to military assessments.
“At the current point in time, the IDF is competent. There was an increase in requests to end reserve service, and alongside this, there is a dialogue between commanders and servicemembers,” military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari told reporters.
“If reservists do not report for duty for a long time, there will be damage to the army’s competence. This is a gradual process that will be affected according to the reporting for duty of the reservists,” he added.
There have been at least two isolated cases of reservists not showing up for duty when ordered to, according to the IDF. One was handed a NIS 1,000 ($270) fine and the other was given a 15-day suspended jail sentence.
On Tuesday, organizers of a letter of nearly 1,200 Israeli Air Force reservists who announced their intention to end their volunteer service, said some 60 percent had notified their commanders that they would no longer show up for duty.
Reservists not showing up for volunteer service have not faced any disciplinary action, rather, their commanders have just attempted to convince them to show up.
Some reservists will also meet with Halevi in the coming days to discuss their intention to end their voluntary duty.
In a pre-recorded statement released Tuesday, Halevi said that the IDF is “ready for any challenge, this is our imperative to assure the existence of the state.”
He also appealed for unity in the face of protests wracking the nation following the first major bill of the government’s judicial overhaul plan passing.
“Yesterday was a day of peak intensity in the controversy in Israeli society,” Halevi said.
“In the midst of this turmoil, the IDF has the great responsibility of protecting the State of Israel and its citizens,” Halevi continued. “Days of controversy and crisis require emphasizing the shared and the unifying [tasks]… defending the country is our deep commitment.”
“We must embrace the reservists who are very dear to us, whose contribution to the security of the country is great. Even those who made a decision with a heavy heart not to report for duty, the IDF needs you,” Halevi said.
The IDF has said it has been updating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant frequently, sometimes daily, on the military’s readiness amid the protests by reservists.
The Knesset on Monday gave its final approval to a law that prevents courts from reviewing the “reasonableness” of government and ministerial decisions, the first major bill of the government’s judicial overhaul to pass.
The reservists’ threats had simultaneously created more pressure on the government to halt the controversial legislation, while also increasing the coalition’s determination, with members of Netanyahu’s government saying they cannot under any circumstances succumb to what they say is blackmail by members of the military, which they warn could create a dangerous precedent.
Following the Knesset vote, Halevi urged Netanyahu in a meeting to help end slander against soldiers, especially reservist pilots, who have been protesting against the overhaul.
Defense officials and politicians on both sides of the aisle have warned that the mass refusals could make Israel more vulnerable to outside threats, as the readiness of the military, particularly the IAF, would be negatively impacted.
Reservists, especially members of the IAF, are a key part of the army’s routine activities. Defense officials have said pilots could harm their competency by taking breaks from their frequent training exercises, and it would take a significant amount of time to restore their flying abilities.
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.
The IDF said it would handle each case individually, including possible fines, suspension, dismissal, or jail sentences.