Reservists end refusal threat, pilots resume training flights, but keeping ‘eye open’

Brothers in Arms group says it believes in actions, not words, and is ready to renew measures ‘in a short time’ if judicial overhaul renewed without broad support

Illustrative: Three pilots stand in front of an F-16 fighter jet as it takes off from the Israeli Air Force's 117th Squadron, which was closed on September 30, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)
Illustrative: Three pilots stand in front of an F-16 fighter jet as it takes off from the Israeli Air Force's 117th Squadron, which was closed on September 30, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

The leaders of the reservist pilots’ protest against the government’s judicial overhaul plans announced Tuesday that they would resume training and operational activity after the controversial legislative plan was paused, but indicated that they’re remaining alert in case it ends up being revived.

On Friday, around 200 reserve pilots, who fly combat missions, helicopters, and transport planes, notified their units they would not be reporting for a weekly flight session this week in protest of the government plans. On Saturday, nearly 1,000 retired Air Force pilots pledged their support for reservist personnel.

The failure to report for weekly training sessions would have had serious implications because pilots who miss them are not certified to fly operational missions.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant urged the government Saturday evening to freeze the overhaul, citing danger to national security if it goes ahead. Gallant was fired on Sunday evening, triggering unprecedented nationwide protests and strikes that forced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to say Monday evening that he was delaying the overhaul push until May to allow for dialogue with the opposition on a compromise version.

On Tuesday morning, the Brothers in Arms group said in a statement: “According to [the prime minister], this halt was made with the intention of giving time for negotiations. We — like the majority of the people — do not believe the words, do not believe that there is a real intention to reach a broad agreement. We only believe in actions.

“At the same time, as principled reserve volunteers who led the country every time the country called us, and after deep thought and [a sense of] national responsibility for the unity of the people… we decided to give the negotiation process a chance,” the group said.

But the protesters added: “We are ready and organized to renew the protest in a short time. Brothers in Arms will resume active protest actions immediately with full force if it turns out that the time allowed for talks is being cynically used to further damage democracy.”

Additionally, the Walla news site quoted one of the pilot protest leaders saying that while the protests have been put on halt, the struggle hasn’t ended and the pilots remain ready to renew their protest since their trust in the government remains low.

“Yesterday’s speech [by Netanyahu] didn’t encourage unity and reconciliation,” he told Walla. “He simply announced a pause. But we have full trust in the military commanders, the Air Force chief, and the chief of staff.”

“We are going back to fighting for what needs to be defended — the state — but we are keeping one eye open to defend democracy.”

Meanwhile, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi toured the Ramat David Air Force base and held talks with pilots and technicians, Army Radio reported.

File: An IAF F-15I fighter jet of the 69th squadron takes off from Hatzerim Airbase in southern Israel, during a pilots graduation ceremony, June 22, 2022. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

Hundreds of IAF officers and military reservists joined the protests in recent weeks against the hardline coalition’s effort to radically restrict the High Court of Justice’s power, declaring that they wouldn’t report for duty if the overhaul passes. A significant proportion of the protesting reservists had already stopped reporting for duty, intensifying the pressure against the government.

The trend sparked deep fears among the security establishment, which warned Netanyahu that the IDF’s operational capacity was at risk.

More and more reservists — who are 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 would become under the government’s plan.

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.

Military brass has insisted that the armed services must remain outside any political brawl.

In his speech Monday, Netanyahu devoted much of his time to condemning military dissenters, saying that “refusal to serve is the end of our country.”

Most Popular
read more: