IDF top brass said to warn reservist no-shows could impact readiness within a month

Members of the General Staff reportedly expect significant jump in number of former soldiers who refuse duty if government’s judicial overhaul continues apace

Illustrative: IDF soldiers of Palsar 401, the reconnaissance company of the Armored Corps, during training in the Golan Heights on April 11, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
Illustrative: IDF soldiers of Palsar 401, the reconnaissance company of the Armored Corps, during training in the Golan Heights on April 11, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

Top-ranking commanders in the Israel Defense Forces have voiced concern that a growing trend of reservist personnel refusing to serve in protest of the government’s planned judicial revamp could impair the armed forces’ operational capabilities within a month, Army Radio reported Tuesday.

The unsourced report said members of the General Staff recently held discussions on the matter, in which they expressed their concern that if the government pushes ahead with legislation to significantly weaken the Supreme Court, the military will see an increase in the number of individuals who don’t show up for service, impacting the IDF’s ability to perform its duties.

Though there has been no impact yet on operational capabilities, the report said, this could change in a matter of weeks — particularly in the air force, which greatly relies on reserve pilots for missions.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, a collection of right-wing, ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties, has barreled ahead with legislation that aims to weaken the court’s ability to serve as a check on parliament, as well as give the government control over the appointment of judges. There have been weekly mass protests for over two months against the planned legislation, and a rising wave of objections by top public figures including the president, jurists, business leaders and more.

Increasingly, reservists — who make up a key part of the army’s routine activities, including in top units — have warned they will not be able to serve in an undemocratic Israel, which they charge the country will become under the government’s plan.

Military brass has insisted that the armed services must remain outside any political brawl, but numerous reports have indicated the phenomenon is only growing.

In addition, soldiers have expressed concern that a lack of international trust in the independence of Israel’s judiciary could expose them to prosecution in international tribunals over actions they were ordered to carry out during service.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi seen during a tour on near the border with Lebanon, northern Israel, March 16, 2023. (Photo by David Cohen/Flash90)

In a speech Monday to officers including IDF chief Herzi Halevi, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant denounced the wave of insubordination in the military, saying it threatened national security.

“The phenomenon of widespread insubordination may harm the IDF’s ability to carry out its missions,” the defense minister warned.

However, Gallant is also said to have warned Netanyahu that he could resign if the judicial legislative blitz is not slowed down.

Netanyahu shared Gallant’s privately expressed sentiments with the cabinet on Sunday, according to Hebrew media reports, a move that may have been designed to increase pressure on the coalition members who are driving the effort forward to soften some of their plans. Justice Minister Yariv Levin of Likud and MK Simcha Rothman of the far-right Religious Zionism party, who heads the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, have been heading the efforts to revamp the judiciary and exert political control over some key functions.

The coalition has now delayed some of the legislation until after the Passover holiday, but is moving ahead quickly with a bill to assert political control over the appointment of judges, which lawmakers plan to pass by next week.

While supporters say the judicial overhaul will rebalance power away from an overly activist court, critics argue the moves will remove essential checks on executive and legislative power, putting democracy in peril.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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