IDF suspends senior Navy reservist who ended volunteer duty to protest overhaul

Navy chief to decide on continued reserve service of a second rear admiral in coming days; both had warned they won’t serve in ‘a dictatorship’

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

Vice Adm. David Sa'ar Salama, head of the Israeli Navy, speaks at a ceremony at Atlit Naval Base, July 10, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
Vice Adm. David Sa'ar Salama, head of the Israeli Navy, speaks at a ceremony at Atlit Naval Base, July 10, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The head of the Israeli Navy, Vice Adm. David Sa’ar Salama, on Thursday suspended a senior reservist who announced earlier this month that he was no longer showing up for volunteer duty in protest of the government’s controversial plans to overhaul the judicial system.

The status of a second rear admiral, who made a similar announcement, was to be examined, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

Earlier this month, the Haaretz daily reported that Rear Adm. (res.) Ofer Doron and Rear Adm. (res.) Eyal Segev, who both serve as heads of operational headquarters and as deputies to Salama in emergencies, announced that they would end their volunteer reserve duty, saying they refused to serve in “a dictatorship.”

The pair joined a long line of Navy reservists and other officers who have announced in recent weeks that they would stop showing up for volunteer reserve duty, sparking fears within the military of harm to its operational preparedness.

Both are above the age of mandatory reserve duty and are exempt from showing up for duty. They were both promoted to the rank of rear admiral several years ago.

On Thursday, the IDF said that one of the rear admirals was suspended from service following a conversation Vice Adm. Salama held with him. “In the coming days, dialogue will be held with the second reservist, in which the continuation of his reserve service will be examined,” the IDF said.

Salama’s decision was approved by IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, the military said.

Israeli Navy ships are seen off the coast of Israel during a ceremony, July 30, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

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 to weaken the judiciary 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.

Unlike most reservists who are called up for duty with a formal order for several days a year, members of top units, especially pilots, are expected to train and carry out missions more frequently and in a voluntary manner due to the nature of their positions. Many voluntarily continue their reserve duty past the exemption age of 45 for officers and 49 for certain positions.

The IDF said that following the suspension of the unnamed rear admiral, operations at Navy headquarters “are being carried out as planned.”

In recent weeks, 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 was trying to shift responsibility onto them over the current harm to the state of military readiness.

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