Protests over Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan rock Israeli military
The growing public opposition to the Netanyahu government’s judicial overhaul has sent shockwaves through the Israeli military, with hundreds of reserve air force pilots, members of special forces units, and military intelligence officers saying they would not serve if the plan to weaken Israel's Supreme Court is implemented.
Why it matters: The Israeli military, especially the air force and the military intelligence special operations unit, is highly dependent on reservists who sometimes leave their families and jobs for more than 30 days a year in order to serve in front-line positions and take part in active combat.
- The IDF leadership is concerned that the growing protest among reservists could impact the military’s operational preparedness and capabilities, especially when it comes to the campaign against Iranian entrenchment in Syria and preparing for a possible military strike against Iran’s nuclear program, a senior IDF officer told Axios.
Catch up quick: The right-wing government’s plan to weaken the Supreme Court and other democratic institutions has created an unprecedented constitutional crisis in Israel, with growing fears that the confrontation between the government and the opposition will escalate into violence and chaos.
- The plan includes giving the government full control over the appointment of judges, legislation that will enable the coalition to override Supreme Court rulings by a 61-member majority, and legislation that would significantly limit the Supreme Court’s ability to strike down laws and protect human rights.
Driving the news: Hundreds of reservists from the military intelligence special operations unit — a secretive elite unit in the IDF that conducts intelligence operations behind enemy lines — signed a letter two weeks ago announcing they would not report to reserve service if the government’s plan is implemented.
- Since then, similar announcements have been made by reservists from special artillery units, commando units and the IDF’s signal intelligence and cyber unit AKA unit 8200, which is the Israeli equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency.
The announcement that has shocked the military establishment the most was made by dozens of reserve fighter pilots who said they would not show up for a planned training this week as a protest against the government’s judicial plan.
- The pilots serve in an F-15 squadron, which participates in airstrikes against Iranian targets in the region almost every week and would have a central role in any possible military strike against Iran’s nuclear program.
- Training for the pilots, which often takes place at least once a week, is highly important. If they miss a training, they will likely be ineligible to fly in any missions until they attend one. That could put Israel's regular operations in the region at risk.
Behind the scenes: IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi earlier this week warned Defense Minister Yoav Galant and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the possible negative ramifications of the protest on the IDF’s preparedness, senior Israeli military officers told me.
What they're saying: Several ministers in Netanyahu’s government, including some from his own party, attacked the reservists, especially the pilots.
- One minister called them "weaklings," and another minister said “they should go to hell.” A deputy minister said the reserve pilots "should be fired."
- These statements only escalated the situation, creating outrage among the reservists and pushing many more to join the protest.
- Netanyahu issued a statement late Tuesday calling for calm and asking to keep the debate respectable.
Between the lines: Many of the party leaders in the current ruling coalition did not serve in the Israeli army or the reserves on religious grounds or did not serve the number of years required for most Israeli citizens.
The big picture: Galant and Halevi convened several emergency meetings with senior reserve officers to try to calm down the protest.
- Galant in a statement said he told the reservists that refusal to serve is a red line and that politics should stay out of the IDF, but he also reassured them that he will make sure their voices are heard inside the Cabinet meetings. “Whoever is attacking IDF soldiers should not be in public service," Galant added after the meeting.
What to watch: President Isaac Herzog is still trying to put together a compromise formula that will enable negotiations between the government and the opposition over the judicial overhaul plan.
- Justice Minister Yariv Levin has so far rejected all of the proposals and refuses to suspend the legislation. The coalition announced on Tuesday that it will push forward with the legislation next week and prepare it for the final vote in the second and third readings.
- Herzog is expected to publicly present his proposal in the coming days.
- Meanwhile, the organizations leading the protests against the judicial overhaul plan said they're planning a day of resistance on Thursday that will include blocking the roads to Israel’s main international airport.