IDF chief calls refusal 'red line,' cannot be accepted

Reservists reportedly still frustrated after meeting defense brass over protests

Gallant tells troops refusing orders is ‘playing with fire’; soldiers at discussion complain defense minister ‘lacked empathy,’ spoke only in slogans

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant meets with senior reservist officers in Tel Aviv on March 7, 2023. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant meets with senior reservist officers in Tel Aviv on March 7, 2023. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Israel Defense Forces chief Herzi Halevi met Tuesday with soldiers in the military’s reserves, as the country’s leadership attempts to stanch a flux of troops saying they will refuse to train or serve as part of a protest against the government’s judicial overhaul.

Reservists involved in the discussion told Channel 13 news that they left the meeting feeling “shocked,” complaining that Gallant “does not understand what is going on at all and speaks in slogans.”

“He did not promise anything and lacked empathy. He did not say anything about the protest. We are frustrated,” one soldier told the network.

Government leaders, military brass and others have reacted with shock to the wave of protests by reservists, which ratcheted up recently as 37 out of 40 fighter jet pilots from a single squadron announced they would refuse to take part in a training exercise due to the overhaul and a rise in West Bank settler violence.

Reservists from the naval, intelligence, air force, and ground force branches of the IDF met with Gallant and Halevi Tuesday. More meetings are planned for Wednesday.

Following the discussion, the defense minister vowed to “defend all reservists, including those who think the opposite from me.”

“Those who disparage IDF soldiers, from the left or the right, have no place in public service,” Gallant said. “I cherish, appreciate, and support the reservists, regardless of their political position.”

Screen capture from video of Communication Minister Shlomo Karhi, center, speaking with protesters outside his home in Moshav Zimrat, March 7, 2023. (Channel 12; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

But Gallant also called on reservists to stop threatening to refuse to do their duty as part of the protests against the government.

“The word refusal [to serve] should remain out of the conversation. This refusal is undermining the most basic foundation of the state’s existence — our security, and we cannot allow that,” Gallant said.

“The threats of refusal are playing with fire. We need to leave the IDF above all debate — a protest against the government does not permit activities against the state,” he said.

Halevi also spoke out against the protests, calling the insubordination a “red line.”

“We can’t accept refusal,” he said, noting that the army is designed to be the state’s apparatus for emergencies. “We all know how to treat an emergency system. It isn’t right to stretch or weaken it. Not everything that is weakened today can be strengthened when needed,” Halevi said.

Reservists block Route 1 to protest the government’s planned judicial overhaul, March 1, 2023. (Courtesy/Brothers in Arms)

Representatives of the reservists were quoted by Channel 12 as telling Gallant and Halevi during the meeting that they should back the troops more vocally.

“Your silence is very hurtful to us. We are being insulted by contemptible people in the government. You, who are in charge, must give us backing, ensure calm, protect and defend us. Where will you be when we need you? Defense minister, are you motivated solely by political considerations? This is simply despicable,” one was quoted saying.

Both Gallant and Halevi spoke out against two Likud ministers who a day earlier had aimed broadsides at the reservists, with one of them, Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, telling them to “go to hell.”

Halevi later met with 18 Air Force reservist commanders and pilots together with IAF head Tomer Bar.

In his remarks after the discussion, Halevi emphasized that the country’s security relied on them, and therefore, “we need to state clearly —  refusal is not on the table.”

“In recent days, I have heard condemnations and offensive remarks toward reservist servicepeople. These comments are unacceptable and are misplaced, especially toward those who risk their lives in operations in all sectors and report to every cross-border sortie,” Halevi said.

The remarks by the defense chiefs echoed those made by military, government, and opposition leaders who have decried the protests by the soldiers, saying the army should be kept free of politics and warning that mass insubordination will harm national security.

On Monday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the reservists’ protest “threatens the foundations of our existence, and therefore it has no place in our ranks.”

Senior opposition figures Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz, Gadi Eisenkot, and Avigdor Liberman also have expressed opposition to reservists’ calls to boycott their duties but voiced understanding of their motives. Gantz and Eisenkot are both former IDF chiefs of staff.

Reservist members of the 69th Israel Air Force fighter jet squadron, one of the more high-profile groups of reservists to protest the overhaul, said Tuesday that they would only show up on base Wednesday for discussions, after drawing widespread consternation by announcing they would not attend a scheduled exercise that day.

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)

On Friday, dozens of senior pilots in the Israeli Air Force held an unprecedented meeting with Bar in which they reportedly expressed major concerns about their continued service in the reserves, after Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s call for the state to “wipe out” the Palestinian town of Huwara, along with the government’s plan to radically restrict the power of the country’s judiciary.

According to Channel 12, the pilots, reservists who continue to do active service, expressed fear that the new hardline government’s conduct and judicial proposals could expose them to prosecution by global bodies such as the International Criminal Court.

Israel has long argued against such probes, pointing to the strength and independence of its own judiciary, which is responsible for investigating incidents of wrongdoing by Israeli forces. But critics of the government’s legal overhaul warn that efforts to restrict the High Court of Justice’s power will rob the country of legitimacy in the international arena.

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