Official says views shared by IDF, Shin Bet, Mossad chiefs

Senior defense official: Israel’s enemies see country ‘as weak’ given overhaul rifts

Official warns foes are planning attacks ‘based on their assumption that Israel is paralyzed,’ says pushing ahead with legislation will cause ‘damage to competence’

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Illustrative: Soldiers of the Combat Engineering Corps prepare for an exercise in Golan Heights, on January 10, 2023. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)
Illustrative: Soldiers of the Combat Engineering Corps prepare for an exercise in Golan Heights, on January 10, 2023. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

A senior defense official said on Sunday that Israel’s enemies view the Jewish state as weak, due to the ongoing controversy over the government’s judicial overhaul.

“Our enemies see Israel as weak and limited in its retaliation, especially in light of the weakening of international support,” the official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The internal situation has become a central element, all the players point to the fact that Israel is in a serious crisis that, in their view, could lead to the collapse of Israel. They recognize an opportunity. There is damage to [our] deterrence and there are attacks being planned based on their assumption that Israel is paralyzed,” he said.

The official said his view was shared by military chief Herzi Halevi, Shin Bet head Ronen Bar, and Mossad chief David Barnea.

The official said the IDF was “at full competency,” despite hundreds of reservists officers threatening to boycott volunteer duty over the overhaul. “But continuing the legislative process without an agreement will result in competence being damaged.”

Hundreds of military reservists have joined protests in recent weeks against the hardline coalition’s effort to radically restrict the High Court of Justice’s power, declaring that they will not report for duty if the overhaul passes. A significant portion of the protesting reservists have already stopped reporting for duty, further intensifying the pressure on the government.

“It also affects the standing army. We can already see a crack,” the official continued, adding that the IDF was also preparing for conscript soldiers refusing to become officers.

“There is already damage and this is the reason why it is necessary to stop,” he said. “There is damage because a unit needs cohesion and this goes against the spirit of the IDF. Anyone who thinks that the debate about the legislation can be left out [of the military] is stuck 40 years in the past. We need to curb the legislation and take this information into account.

“I think that we should understand that stopping [the legislation] now is essential because there is a danger of weakening the army and harming its competence, as well as in light of our enemies seeing an opportunity for achievements,” the official said.

“It must be stopped until after the summer. Dialogue by agreement must be held. And we need an end to the protests, and, above all, a firm call to stop the refusals [to serve],” he added.

The official’s remarks to reporters came a day after Defense Minister Yoav Gallant publicly joined those urging that the legislative process be suspended, the first major sign of dissent from within the ruling coalition.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks in a televised address on March 25, 2023. (Courtesy)

“I see the source of our strength eroding,” Gallant warned Saturday night. “The growing rift in our society is penetrating the IDF and security agencies. This poses a clear, immediate, and tangible threat to the security of the state. I will not lend my hand to this.”

“For the sake of Israel’s security, for the sake of our sons and daughters, the legislative process should be stopped now, to enable the nation of Israel to celebrate Passover and Independence Day together, and to mourn together on Memorial Day and Holocaust Remembrance Day,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Sunday, meanwhile, denied reports that he rejected a request by Gallant to convene the security cabinet for discussions on the security implications of the judicial overhaul, saying no such request was ever made.

Increasingly, 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 will become under the government’s plan.

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, but numerous reports have indicated the phenomenon is only growing.

Netanyahu’s coalition, a collection of right-wing, ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties, has barreled ahead with legislation that aims to weaken the court’s ability to serve as a check on parliament, as well as give the government control over the appointment of judges. There have been weekly mass protests for nearly three months against the planned legislation, and a rising wave of objections by top public figures including the president, jurists, business leaders, and more.

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