Pilots said to tell Gallant they won’t fly sorties if Israel not democratic

Reserves airmen reportedly explain colleagues’ refusal to serve to defense minister during visit to southern base meant to patch up ties between the government and air force

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks to members of the Israeli Air Force at the Ramon air base, August 15, 2023. (Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks to members of the Israeli Air Force at the Ramon air base, August 15, 2023. (Defense Ministry)

Pilots in the Israeli Air Force reserves reportedly warned Tuesday that they may not be willing to carry out attacks on behalf of Israel should it slide into authoritarianism, expressing sympathy for colleagues who have suspended volunteer duty to protest the government’s designs on the judiciary.

The pilots made the comments during a meeting with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant as he sought to bridge a growing divide between the government and military, the Ynet news website reported.

Airmen who met with Gallant at the Ramon air base in southern Israel told him they understood their fellow reserves pilots who had already stopped volunteering for training or operational duty to protest the judicial overhaul. They told Gallant that pilots did not want to carry out attacks on behalf of a non-democratic country, and they were considering joining the revolt, the news site reported.

While some in the government have rejected the protest as politically tainted, some servicemembers have explained that changes to Israel’s judiciary could leave them liable to international tribunals, which can be activated in cases where the local judicial system is seen as insufficiently independent.

According to the unsourced Ynet report, Gallant’s visit to Ramon was touched off by concerns over a series of attacks by coalition members on the air force after its top general Tomer Bar publicly warned Friday that the protest was increasingly degrading military fitness.

Coalition members, including reportedly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have fumed at Bar and IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi for reporting on the worsening state of military readiness in light of the reserves protest, which they have complained is tantamount to the army exerting political pressure. Netanyahu reportedly shouted at Bar and Halevi during a Friday phone call for disclosing worries about damage to the country’s defenses wrought by the reservists suspending volunteer duty to protest his government and its judicial overhaul agenda.

Tomer Bar, left, and Yoav Gallant speak to members of the Air Force at Ramon air base on August 15, 2023. (Defense Ministry)

Coalition lawmakers have also castigated the pilots and other members of the reserves corp for halting their service, and commanders for failing to quell what Regional Cooperation Minister David Amsalem of Netanyahu’s Likud party called a “rebellion” Tuesday.

“In any normal army, you treat rebels like rebels should be treated,” Amsalem told Army Radio, drawing swift rebuke from President Isaac Herzog, among others.

Later Tuesday, Netanyahu and Gallant issued a joint statement saying they “reject any attack against top officials in the security apparatus, and back IDF commanders and soldiers who are working day and night for the security of Israel.”

At the meeting with pilots at Ramon, Gallant was reportedly told that the protesting pilots’ decision was based on the idea that they hold personal responsibility for the fate of the nation.

Gallant, who also met with Bar, expressed appreciation for their service — hugging a helicopter pilot who had taken part in a recent major West Bank operation, according to Ynet — but said he could not tolerate a refusal to report for duty.

Members of the corps “are a strategic asset of the State of Israel, enabling the proper functioning of the entire security system — this is why we need them all, ” said Gallant, chiding those who have refused to show up.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Transportation Minister Miri Regev at the Knesset on February 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The wall that is the Air Force is strong, but small. Every brick that falls undermines the stability of that wall. Therefore, we do not have the privilege of not reporting for missions. The security of the country is greater [in importance] than all of us,” he said.

Security officials voiced concern on Monday that, by allowing repeated public attacks on top military brass, the coalition is trying to shift responsibility onto them over the current harm to the state of military readiness.

On Monday, Channel 12 reported that the security establishment was “stunned” by the recent attacks on the military from coalition lawmakers, who were irate last month after over 1,000 members of the Israeli Air Force announced they would be halting their volunteer reserve duty in protest of the government’s effort to radically overhaul the judiciary.

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