Lapid, Liberman oppose reservists refusing to serve, but say their fears justified

Lapid cites concerns of cyber unit members that their hacking capabilities could be turned against Israeli citizens in hands of far-right ministers and without judicial oversight

Illustrative: Israeli Air Force pilots throw their caps in the air during a graduation ceremony at the Hatzerim air force base, December 28, 2022. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Illustrative: Israeli Air Force pilots throw their caps in the air during a graduation ceremony at the Hatzerim air force base, December 28, 2022. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Opposition leader Yair Lapid and Yisrael Beytenu chair Avigdor Liberman on Monday expressed opposition to recent threats from members of the army’s reserve forces to not report for duty in protest of the government’s plan to radically overhaul the judiciary, while saying that their concerns were understandable.

In an interview with 103 FM, Lapid was asked about the decision of his former spokesperson, Roei Konkol, to refuse to turn up for reserve duty.

“I am against refusal. I don’t think it’s the way. I understand the pain, the sorrow, the dread, and the fury. I think it’s a mistake. We have one army, and it’s forbidden that there is refusal,” he said and added that he intended to try and convince Konkol otherwise.

On Sunday, nearly all reservist members of an Israeli Air Force fighter jet squadron announced that they would not show up to one of their planned training sessions later this week in protest of the overhaul, sparking warnings from both the Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant that such protests could harm the military’s operational capabilities.

They were the latest, and most high profile, in a growing list of IDF units, including some of the most elite, to see members threaten to not show up amid widescale opposition to the government’s plans that critics say will undermine democracy, harm the economy and security.

National Unity party chief Benny Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff, also said on Sunday that he opposed refusing to do reserve duty “no matter what.”

On Friday, dozens of senior pilots in the Israeli Air Force held an unprecedented meeting with IAF chief Tomer Bar in which they reportedly expressed major concerns about their continued service in the reserves, after Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s call for the state to “wipe out” a Palestinian town along with the government’s plan to radically restrict the power of the country’s judiciary.

According to Channel 12, the pilots, reservists who continue to do active service, expressed fear 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.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid speaks at a rally against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, in the central city of Herzliya, March 4, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Lapid also acknowledged other concerns of those refusing service, giving the example of the army’s cyber unit, which he said would be capable of breaking into “every phone, every computer, every conversation” and warning that without judicial oversite these capabilities could be turned against Israeli citizens.

“And they say, wait, there will not be any legal oversight, and these capabilities will be in the hands of [Finance Minister Bezalel] Smotrich and [National Security Minister Itamar] Ben Gvir,” Lapid explained, adding the “irresponsible” ministers would use them against political enemies if the courts were powerless to stop them.

“We have no other state for the Jews, no other army for Jews. We learned in the most difficult places that if Jews can’t defend themselves, nobody will come to rescue them. We can’t play around with national security, even if we are fuming,” Lapid added.

Lapid labeled the current situation the “biggest national crisis since the birth of the country,” and accused the government of advancing their proposals without any prior consultation with experts regarding the impact of the changes to the country’s economy or security.

“They ran forward… with this crazy irresponsible legislation, without any process of investigating the deeper impact of this thing they are doing,” he said.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset on February 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Liberman also voiced opposition to those refusing service in an interview with Army Radio on Monday, saying: “There is no place to refuse orders, or to boycott reserve duty.

“I say to you, as [a former] defense minister, as a citizen, as a father of a son who still does reserve duty, there is no place to mix the army, reserve duty, and military service with politics,” he said, but like Lapid, acknowledged the concerns of those protesting.

“Together with that, I understand their hearts, when senior ministers and family members of the prime minister call our sons and daughters terrorists and anarchists, this is upsetting, and the responsibility first and foremost lies with the prime minister. He needed to reprimand his family members and those senior ministers, who are running wild,” he said.

Liberman also slammed the government’s conduct in its first two months in office on the security front, charging that the government allowed the country to descend into chaos while being unable to rally allies against Iran.

“I tried to go over everything I remembered. If there was ever a time that two months after the establishment of a government, a prime minister wasn’t invited to Washington. It’s never happened,” he said.

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