Netanyahu meets Halevi, Bar on Sunday; PMO: He doesn't yell

PM said to have shouted at IDF chiefs: ‘It looks like the army is running the country’

In Friday phone conference, IDF head Halevi and IAF chief Bar reportedly rebuffed PM request to walk back public comments on harm to IDF fitness and readiness amid overhaul rifts

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)
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)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly shouted at his top military leaders last week for disclosing worries about damage to the country’s defenses wrought by reservists suspending volunteer duty to protest his government.

The Friday phone conference, during which the premier was said to have berated Israel Defense Forces Chief Herzi Halevi and Air Force head Tomer Bar, came hours after the army confirmed that Bar had warned protesting reserve pilots of “worsening damage to the army’s readiness.”

“It looks like the army is running the country,” Netanyahu reportedly exploded at the pair, according to unsourced reports carried by Channels 12 and 13.

“You’re damaging our deterrent credibility,” he was said to have shouted. “Why are you putting out headlines like this?”

Both Halevi and Bar refused requests to walk back the comments on the army’s readiness, the reports claimed, with Halevi quoted as telling Netanyahu that “it is our duty to issue a warning when the army’s fitness is at risk.”

Netanyahu’s bureau denied that he had yelled during the talks, telling Channel 13 that “even when the prime minister speaks forcefully, he doesn’t yell.”

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi (left) and IAF chief Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar (center) speak with two officers at the Tel Nof airbase, July 19, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Bar’s comments Friday underlined what are said to be growing concerns among military leaders over the loss of reservists who have halted volunteer duty to protest the government’s planned judicial overhaul.

As the reservists’ revolt has spread to some of the armed forces’ most elite units and divisions, military leaders have struggled to stay sanguine on the issue publicly, with the IDF’s spokesman admitting last week that “there is limited harm in some areas.”

At a meeting with the generals on Sunday, which also included Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and National Security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi, the military heads were said to have warned Netanyahu that the army would really begin to feel the impact in another two weeks, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

The brass told Netanyahu that IDF readiness would worsen in the case of a constitutional crisis, harm to the IDF’s international standing, or the passage of a Basic Law that would expand draft exemptions for yeshiva students, Kan reported.

Netanyahu answered that he was trying to reach compromises on the controversial legislation and met afterward with Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Shas party head Aryeh Deri on the matter, according to Kan.

Levin, one of the main proponents of the overhaul, is attempting to push through changes to the makeup of the panel that chooses judges in order to give the government a greater say, part of a larger plan aimed at watering down the judiciary’s powers.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin (second from left, flanked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to his right, and National Infrastructure Minister Israel Katz, during a vote on the reasonableness limitation bill in the Knesset plenum, July 24, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Some 10,000 reservists who frequently show up for duty on a voluntary basis said they would no longer do so last month, after the coalition advanced the first major piece of legislation related to its overhaul of the judiciary. The reservists, many of whom acted on their threats, have warned they will not be able to serve in an undemocratic Israel, which some charge the country will become if the government’s overhaul plans are realized.

According to Channel 12 news, Netanyahu told the generals on Sunday that there was little point in slowing down for compromise talks with the opposition.

“When you raised the flag last time, we stopped for three months, but nothing came of it, because there are players whose goal is the downfall of the government,” he reportedly said. “There’s little chance of compromise on the Judicial Selection Committee,” Netanyahu reportedly added, referring to the core legislation in the planned judicial overhaul that will give the coalition near-complete control of appointing Israel’s judges. The prime minister reiterated last week that it will likely pass in the winter Knesset session.

Netanyahu’s bureau said that during Sunday’s meeting, he “ordered that the IDF’s fitness and preparedness be maintained in times of routine and emergency, for any challenge.”

There was no readout of the meeting from Gallant’s office or the IDF.

Israeli reserve soldiers and activists protest against the Israeli government’s planned judicial overhaul, in Bnei Brak, March 16, 2023. (Flash90)

The reported dressing down adds to what some analysts believe is a growing crisis of faith between the military and political leadership. Following the Sunday meeting, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid accused Netanyahu of attempting to shift responsibility for the damage to the nation’s security onto the military.

“The damage to the IDF’s fitness is the direct result of one thing — the destructive regime coup being led by Netanyahu’s government,” he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, calling for the legislation to be halted.

An umbrella group representing groups protesting the judicial overhaul said in a statement carried by Channel 13 that a “prime minister who yells at an IDF chief of staff to hide information about the state of the army, is not fit.”

Israelis protest against the Israeli government’s judicial overhaul, at the Goma junction, northern Israel, on August 12, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

Channel 12 news said those present in the Sunday meeting described it as frustrating, with the prime minister unmoved by their presentation of data showing damage to the military’s readiness, and telling the military to steer clear of politics.

Earlier in the day, the Shin Bet, Mossad, and IDF all issued denials to a report by the channel that their leaders were considering detailing the damage publicly next month.

Following the reports on the comments from the call and meeting, a source close to Netanyahu told the channel that “in light of leaks related to defense matters, steps will be taken to stop the dangerous trend.”

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