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Israeli Politics

Israel’s Defense Harmed by Refusals to Serve Say Security Leaders

Air Force war plane IDF Spokesman

As a growing number of Israelis threaten not to answer call-ups for reserve duty in the IDF, more security experts and former generals are saying that this is harming the country’s defense readiness. People, including air force pilots, say they will not serve should the judicial reforms proposed by the government of Benjamin Netanyahu be passed. This is because they say the reforms are a threat to Israel’s democracy and that they would no longer be obligated to serve should Israel no longer be a democratic state.

These calls are a sign as to just how seriously Israeli are taking the possibility that the judicial reforms, which include taking away the power of Israel’s Supreme Court to serve as a check on government actions, might all be passed into law. In Israel, military service is considered almost sacred and such refusals of service have always been outside the bounds of conduct. Israeli have always left political and religious differences at home when performing their military duties and have always come together at a time of national emergency.

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But even in the absence of war or smaller conflicts like the ones fought recently in Gaza, the refusals to serve can harm the IDF’s preparedness for conflict because those who refuse service do not get needed continuing training and experience. And the soldiers who do show up for service are forced to complete training exercises and security duties shorthanded.

And this is especially so for IAF pilots, whose reserve duties generally include one day a week of flying in patrols that give them much needed flight time to maintain their readiness in case of war.

A person described as a senior security official told Israel’s Channel 12 news, “The competence of the army has become a central consideration in every approval of an operational plan.”

And another official in the security system warned Saturday night, “the damage deepens as time goes by” adding, “the competence of the army, with an emphasis on the Air Force, has become a central consideration in any approval of an operational plan.”

The refusals could also be hurting the IAF’s flight school and the training of new pilots.

The Commander of the Air Force, General Tomer Bar, spoke with about 60 reservists from the various formations in the Air Force over the weekend. General Bar told those in attendance that Israel’s air force is “capable”, but “there is an injury that is getting deeper and deeper”. The IAF commander also said that pilots refusing service “harms the IDF.”

“The Chief of Staff and I condemn in every forum transfers of the reservists as well as all servants,” he said.

IDF Reserve Major General Amiram Levin, who once commanded the IDF northern command, told Israel’s Kan 11 News, “in an emergency they will mobilize, but they do not fight to the death for a dictator. Netanyahu is guilty of hubris and he appointed to key positions criminals like [National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir who should be behind bars.” (Ben-Gvir leads the right-wing Otzma Yehudit – Jewish Strength – Party and has taken a hard line regarding how the police should respond to the protestors.)

“There are MKs in the government who came from Judea and Samaria and don’t know what democracy is.”

But Amiram also took a hard left-wing position comparing Israel to apartheid saying the time since the 1967 Six Day War has been, “57 years of absolute apartheid. The IDF is standing on the sidelines and starting to be complicit in war crimes. Walk around Hebron and you will see streets that Arabs cannot walk there, just like what happened in Germany (to Jews).”

Such statements are generally considered outside of legitimate discourse in Israel and will not help his case.

But a majority of Israelis, 58%, believe that their country is currently in a state of emergency after seven months of political turmoil caused by the judicial reform plan proposed by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in January. This is according to a survey conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI).

Israel’s opposition charges the reform plan would harm Israel’s democracy by taking away the ability of the country’s Supreme Court to serve as a “check” on government actions. The government counters that it is just trying to “restore” democracy by undoing what it says has been decades of the courts’ encroachment on the powers of the democratically elected Knesset.

Massive protests have rocked Israel since January when Justice Minister Yariv Levin revealed the government’s plans to alter the nature of Israel’s judicial system. The government’s judicial reform plan would greatly curtail the power of Israel’s Supreme Court to nullify legislation passed by the Knesset and also limit the authority of Israel’s attorney general. The opposition charges this would harm Israel’s democracy, eroding foreign confidence in the country and hurting its economy. And this is why the country is now on the brink of what some are describing as the biggest societal clash in Israel’s history.



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