Gallant: 'If you cannot contain yourselves, attack me'

Minister rails at reservist ‘rebels,’ slams IDF chiefs who warn readiness being hurt

Criticism by Likud’s David Amsalem forcefully opposed by Defense Minister Gallant and President Herzog; Amsalem also says anti-overhaul leaders should rot in jail for life

File - Minister David Amsalem arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on May 7, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
File - Minister David Amsalem arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on May 7, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Regional Cooperation Minister David Amsalem lashed out Tuesday at top military commanders, claiming the Israel Defense Forces was seeing a “rebellion” in its ranks that IDF chiefs were failing to quell, and calling for prominent opponents of the government’s judicial overhaul to “rot” behind bars.

His criticism was swiftly rebuffed by President Isaac Herzog and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

“In any normal army, you treat rebels like rebels should be treated,” Amsalem, of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, told Army Radio.

Amsalem castigated IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi and Air Force chief Tomer Bar over the thousands of reservists, including many pilots, who have said they will stop their volunteer duty in protest of the coalition’s efforts to weaken the judiciary.

Bar and others have warned that the reservist protests are having an increasingly negative impact on military readiness, drawing rebukes from Netanyahu and supporters of the government.

“This is happening on their watch,” Amsalem said. “This will enter the history books. People will study 20 and 30 years from now who the chief of staff was and who the Air Force chief was and what happened.”

Amsalem backed Netanyahu’s warning to top military brass that intelligence they share at a meeting this week of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee will be leaked — remarks some in the security establishment reportedly felt were an attempt to prevent them from providing lawmakers with the full picture on readiness and deterrence.

“[Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah is keeping tabs and it’s possible that after this information [is relayed], we will get missiles in Tel Aviv the next day,” he said, seeming to suggest the IDF would be to blame for such an attack by the Lebanese terror group.

From left, Tomer Bar, Commander of the Israeli Air Force, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Isaac Herzog, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi at a graduation ceremony for soldiers who have completed the IAF Flight Course, at the Hatzerim Air Base in the Negev Desert, June 29, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

Amsalem also called for public figures backing the anti-government protests to be arrested and imprisoned for life.

“One of the Shin Bet’s jobs is to act against the undermining of state institutions,” he claimed. “The head of the Shin Bet needs to arrest [former Supreme Court president] Aharon Barak, [former prime minister] Ehud Barak, [former IDF chief of staff Dan] Halutz and their ilk today, and I believe they should rot in prison until the end of their lives.”

President Herzog quickly issued a statement coming to the IDF’s defense, saying the criticism “harms its resilience.”

“We have a strong army and excellent chief of staff. Our conscript and reserve soldiers risk their lives day and night, today and every day. We all owe them tremendous gratitude and love for their activity in defense of the country’s security,” Herzog said in a statement.

“Cool it,” he added.

Defense Minister Gallant, a member of Likud, similarly defended the military, hailing members of the Israeli Air Force as “the best people in the State of Israel” after touring the Ramon base with Bar.

“I appeal to elected officials: If you cannot contain yourselves, attack me, the defense minister,” he said. “Keep the IDF out of the political debate.”

A reservist signs a declaration intending to end their volunteer reserve duty, outside the IDF headquarters and near the Tel Aviv Museum in Tel Aviv, July 19, 2023. (Courtesy Ben Cohen)

Amsalem’s remarks were also swiftly condemned by opposition party heads.

“The IDF commanders and fighters aren’t ‘rebels.’ They’re wonderful Israeli patriots keeping us alive,” Opposition Leader Yair Lapid said.

“But what would you call a minister whose life mission is to divide the country, inflame hate and violence and racism, corrupt public service with jobs for associates, and lead us to civil war? If that isn’t rebellion and treason against the state, what is?”

National Unity chief Benny Gantz, a former defense minister and army chief, hit out at Netanyahu, saying the premier was causing the military even greater harm by not speaking against the criticism of senior IDF officers.

“What’s hurting them is in fact what is not said. The prime minister’s deafening silence is allowing extremists to harm our most valuable asset,” Gantz wrote on X, the social media outlet formerly known as Twitter.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant at a memorial event for fallen soldiers of South Lebanon Army, in northern Israel, July 6, 2023. (Elad Malka/Defense Ministry)

Amsalem’s comments Tuesday and the subsequent pushback came a day after Hebrew media reported that leading security officials believe that Netanyahu — in allowing his allies to attack top military brass — was trying to assign to them responsibility for the decline in military readiness caused by the reserve soldiers’ protests.

Also Monday, the prime minister’s son Yair Netanyahu shared a Facebook post that said Halevi “will be remembered as the most failed and destructive chief of staff in the history of the IDF” for not cracking down on the reservists. The post was deleted from his page around half an hour after it was shared.

Gallant swiftly defended Halevi in a tweet, praising him as “one of the most excellent officers that I’ve met in all my years in the IDF and security establishment.”

Without explicitly condemning the post shared by his son, Netanyahu tweeted that the country faced “big challenges,” and that he was “working day and night together with the defense minister, the IDF chief of staff, senior IDF officers and security forces to jointly guarantee Israel’s security under all circumstances.”

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