Top US general said aiming to assess overhaul’s impact on IDF during Israel trip

Report says Milley will meet with Gallant, Halevi on next week’s visit, which was originally scheduled for June but postponed due to Wagner Group rebellion in Russia

This handout photo from March 3, 2023, shows IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi (left), Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (second left) and other officials holding talks with visiting Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff (back to camera) and his colleagues. (Sivan Shachor/GPO)
This handout photo from March 3, 2023, shows IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi (left), Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (second left) and other officials holding talks with visiting Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff (back to camera) and his colleagues. (Sivan Shachor/GPO)

US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Mark Milley will travel to Israel next week and will reportedly use his meetings with Israel’s security brass to assess the extent of damage to the army’s readiness caused by some volunteer reservists’ refusal to report for duty in protest of the judicial overhaul.

An unnamed American official told the Walla news site Wednesday that the US Defense Department is concerned Israel’s military deterrence has been negatively impacted, which could encourage more provocative actions by Iran and its Hezbollah and Hamas proxies.

Milley will meet with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, the report said, adding that it was not yet clear whether the US general will also sit down with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Pentagon declined to comment.

Israeli sources told Walla the trip is also a farewell visit for Milley, who is set to leave his post in October. He had been expected to visit in June, but canceled at the last minute due to the Wagner Group’s rebellion in Russia.

The chief spokesperson of the Israel Defense Forces acknowledged last week that soldiers refusing to report for volunteer reserve duty in protest of the government’s judicial overhaul have caused a degree of harm to the army’s readiness. Some 10,000 reservists have threatened not to report for duty, charging that the government’s sweeping reform plans will turn Israel into an undemocratic country; the IDF has not released figures on how many have followed through on the threat to date.

The issue was already raised during a phone call last month between Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and his US counterpart Lloyd Austin, a conversation held a day after Netanyahu’s government passed the first law in the judicial shakeup.

US President Joe Biden has expressed strong opposition to the judicial overhaul, with he and members of his administration repeatedly speaking out against the government’s push to weaken the courts without broad backing from the Israeli public, which is deeply divided over the matter.

A statement issued by Gallant’s office after his July 25 call with Austin said the defense minister stressed his “current priority is to ensure unity within the IDF’s ranks and to maintain the readiness and capabilities of the military, in the face of a range of security threats.”

He also told Austin “Israel is a strong democracy and will remain this way in the future.” According to a US readout, Austin told Gallant that securing “broad consensus through political dialogue” is a “critical element of a resilient democracy.”

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (L) and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant meet in Brussels on June 15, 2023. (Elad Malcha/Defense Ministry)

The Walla report came the same day senior military officials briefed lawmakers about the readiness of the army during a closed-door meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, reportedly warning them that the competence of the Israel Defense Forces would “weaken” further.

Most Israelis who complete their mandatory military national service are required to attend annual reserve duty, but those who served in special units — including pilots — are expected to volunteer to continue carrying out the same duties while in the reserves, a commitment they usually take upon themselves.

As the reservists’ revolt spread to some of the armed forces’ most elite units and divisions, military leaders have struggled to stay sanguine on the issue publicly.

A reservist signs a declaration intending to end their volunteer reserve duty, outside the IDF headquarters and near the Tel Aviv Museum in Tel Aviv, July 19, 2023. (Courtesy Ben Cohen)

Halevi, Air Force head Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar and others have warned that the reservist protests are having an increasingly negative impact on military readiness, drawing rebukes from Netanyahu, other lawmakers, and supporters of the far-right, religious government who claim that such admissions are exacerbating the problem.

Netanyahu’s coalition has rejected the reservists’ protests as a dangerous and unprecedented form of political blackmail by the military. Some coalition lawmakers suggested the protest was tantamount to an attempted military coup.

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

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