Netanyahu said refusing to halt overhaul push: We can do ‘without a few squadrons’

PM rails against threats by reservists to stop showing up for duty if government pushes ahead with controversial legislation; veterans say he is endangering national security

Illustrative: Fighter jets from the IAF's second F-35 squadron, the Lions of the South, fly over southern Israel. (Israel Defense Forces)
Illustrative: Fighter jets from the IAF's second F-35 squadron, the Lions of the South, fly over southern Israel. (Israel Defense Forces)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will reportedly refuse to halt legislation for his controversial judicial overhaul even in the face of a mass refusal by reservists, and is said to have told confidants that Israel can survive “without a few squadrons.”

Writing in his weekly column in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily on Friday, journalist Amit Segal quoted Netanyahu telling confidants in closed-door meetings that he was not prepared to end the legislation even in the face of widespread refusal to serve.

“The country can get by without a few [Air Force] squadrons, but not without a government,” Netanyahu reportedly said.

“Ending the legislation has one meaning, and that is that there is no point in having an executive authority, as it can’t do anything,” Netanyahu was quoted saying.

Segal added that Netanyahu is “mentally prepared” for another attempt at mass refusal by reservists.

The coalition is expected to push through its “reasonableness” law, which would severely curtail judicial oversight over the government, in the next two weeks.

The report did not say when Netanyahu made the comments, but they come days after he was recorded lashing out at the reservists, who then accused him of endangering national security.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant attend an event for outstanding soldiers as part of Israel’s 75th Independence Day celebrations, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on April 26, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu was heard raging at the prospect of soldiers refusing to serve — many of them who do so in a voluntary capacity — due to his government’s efforts to overhaul the judiciary.

His comments, revealed by Channel 13 News on Wednesday, were made during a meeting with legal advisers and State Prosecutor Amit Aisman. The latter explained to the prime minister that all calls for refusal are investigated on a case-by-case basis.

“I can’t imagine anything more serious — organizing a mass effort to break the law… It’s inconceivable… This harms the body of the state, national security,” Netanyahu was heard shouting.

Alumni of special intelligence units said in a statement Thursday that Netanyahu “understands that he, and only he, is dismantling the country and the defense establishment. Don’t talk to us about ‘state security’ when you are rushing toward a Russian or Iranian-style dictatorship.”

A separate group of alumni of the Intelligence Branch said that Netanyahu’s recordings “show he understands the damage to security as a result of government actions. Responsibility for state security is in his hands.”

The large Brothers in Arms protest group of reservists said Netanyahu “is personally destroying national security and relations with the US… He should immediately stop legislation that is tearing the nation apart and face the fact that an army of the people can exist only in a democracy.”

According to Hebrew media reports, reservist pilots met Monday with Air Force chief Tomer Bar, warning him of potential mass refusals to volunteer for service if the government advances its controversial push to overhaul the judiciary.

The group of pilots, who represented hundreds of others, told Bar that “we swore to serve the kingdom, not the king,” according to reports by news outlets that weren’t confirmed by the Israel Defense Forces.

Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar, the chief of the Israeli Air Force, at a ceremony on April 4, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Pilots warned that some were considering ceasing their reserve duty over the coalition’s renewed unilateral efforts to pass the overhaul, warning that the passage of the so-called “reasonableness” bill, or any other element of the plan, could lead to a significant number of refusals that could harm the army’s operational capabilities, the Ynet news site reported.

Unlike most reservists who are called up for duty with a formal order from the IDF, pilots and other special forces show up for duty more frequently and in a voluntary manner, often not during an emergency, due to the nature of their positions.

The military has said that it would discipline or potentially dismiss soldiers who refuse to show up for duty when ordered to but stressed that no action would be taken against reservists who only threaten not to show up. It is unclear what measures would be taken against reservists who do not show up for voluntary duty.

Reservists — who are a key part of the army’s routine activities, including in top units — have been warning in recent months they will not be able to serve in an undemocratic Israel, which some charge the country will become if the government’s plans to overhaul the judiciary are realized.

On Tuesday, 300 reservists in cyber warfare units issued a letter saying they would not show up for volunteer reserve duty in response to the first vote on the “reasonableness” bill.

The calls to refuse reserve duty spread through the military earlier in the year when the overhaul was first proposed and advanced, proliferating even as they were denounced by senior politicians in the opposition and government. Threats again surfaced in recent weeks as the government renewed its legislative push, after largely pausing in March following pressure by reservists on Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

During a security cabinet meeting Sunday, Gallant said that should a specific number of reservists in key positions — such as pilots, special forces, and intelligence units — not show up for duty, it would be something the military “will not be able to withstand,” according to Channel 12 news. The exact number, said to be in the hundreds, was not published.

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