Air force chief: Enemies may test us 'at a time like this'

Military Intelligence warned PM 4 times overhaul rift harming deterrence – report

Officials said to believe Israel’s enemies — particularly Hezbollah and Iran — sense historic weakness, see opportunity to shift balance of power in region in their favor

File: IDF soldiers guard the northern border with Lebanon, during a demonstration on the Lebanese side of the border marking the 17th anniversary of the Second Lebanon War, July 12, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)
File: IDF soldiers guard the northern border with Lebanon, during a demonstration on the Lebanese side of the border marking the 17th anniversary of the Second Lebanon War, July 12, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

The Military Intelligence Directorate reportedly sent four letters to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning of the security consequences of his coalition’s judicial overhaul plans, the latest arriving days before the Knesset approved the first piece of controversial legislation earlier this week.

Senior intelligence officials warned that Israel’s enemies, particularly Iran and its proxy terror group Hezbollah, sense a historic opportunity to shift the balance of power in the region in their favor, amid deep, unprecedented divisions in Israeli society due to the overhaul plans, which they interpret as weakness, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported Friday, without citing sources or quoting from said letters.

According to the reported assessments, Israel’s enemies view the summer of 2023 as a historic low point in the country’s history, and officials are concerned that serious harm may be caused to its deterrence. Although intelligence officials think Iran and Hezbollah prefer to stand back and allow the crisis to destroy Israel from within, the risk of escalation is believed to be the highest since the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War in 2006, it said.

According to the report, the military has deduced that Israel’s enemies view its deterrence as based on four aspects: the strength of the Israel Defense Forces, strong ties with the United States, a strong economy, and strong internal cohesion — all of which are believed to have been weakened by the overhaul in the long term.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi met with Netanyahu on Monday, reportedly to stress these fears.

That same day, the Knesset enacted a law that bars the courts from reviewing government and ministerial decisions based on their “reasonableness,” despite sustained mass protests, opposition by many top judicial, security, economic and public figures, and waves of IDF reservists saying they will suspend their voluntary duty in protest.

File: Members of the ‘Brothers in Arms’ reservists protest group hold a press conference in Herzliya, July 22, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The military warned on Tuesday that its combat readiness may soon be harmed if thousands of reservist troops in key positions, especially pilots, do not show up for duty over a lengthy period of time.

In quotes provided by the IDF on Friday, the chief of the Israeli Air Force, Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar, warned in a recent meeting with a forum of senior commanders that Israel’s enemies may attempt to test the military amid the reservists’ protests.

“I have no doubt that we face many challenges. I am aware of threats in all sectors and what our enemies are saying. It is possible that at a time like this, they will try to test our boundaries, our cohesion, and vigilance,” Bar said in the meeting with the heads of the various IAF squadrons and units.

“We need to continue to be alert and prepared, and I am sure we will be,” he added.

Before the vote on the “reasonableness” bill on Monday, at the request of Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, the IDF sent two generals to the Knesset to brief senior ministers on the threat to the military’s readiness.

Israeli Air Force chief Tomer Bar speaks at an event in honor of the 75th anniversary of the IAF’s first-ever strike mission 75 years ago, at the Ad Halom Park near Ashdod, May 29, 2023. (Flash90)

Only three ministers agreed to meet the head of the Military Intelligence Directorate, Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, and head of the Operations Directorate, Maj. Gen. Oded Basiuk, for the briefing. Channel 12 news named the ministers as Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter, Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel, and Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, the latter of whom was briefed over the phone.

Read more: Government ignores stark warnings, as IDF faces unprecedented threat to readiness

Furthermore, Netanyahu’s government has found itself at odds with the US, with the Biden administration criticizing the government’s push and policies in the West Bank, while Israel has fretted over a potential interim nuclear deal between Iran and the US.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah gloated this week in a speech that Israel was on the “path to disappearance” following the chaotic protests.

“Israel was once thought of as a regional power that can’t be beaten, and regional countries accepted its threat as a fact that can’t be removed,” Nasrallah said.

He added that “its trust, awareness, and self-confidence have deteriorated into the crisis it is experiencing today.”

Children ride their bicycles past a poster of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah at the Lebanese border village of Marwaheen, Wednesday, July 12, 2023. (AP/Mohammed Zaatari)

Tensions on Israel’s border with Lebanon have spiked recently after Hezbollah set up tents on what international bodies have agreed is Israeli territory, next to the border barrier.

Israel has sought since early June to remove two tents placed by Hezbollah in the contested Mount Dov region, also known as the Shebaa Farms. One tent was removed after Israel reportedly sent a message to Hezbollah threatening an armed confrontation if it did not remove the outpost.

But two weeks ago, Nasrallah said the other tent would remain, and threatened to attack Israel if it tries to remove it.

The Mount Dov area where the tents were erected, also known as Shebaa Farms, was captured by Israel from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War and later effectively annexed along with the Golan Heights and the village of Ghajar. The Lebanese government says the area belongs to Lebanon.

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