Aug 16, 2023 - World

Scoop: Milley to visit Israel as U.S. concerns grow over Israeli military crisis

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff

Gen. Mark Milley, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Gen. Mark Milley, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will travel to Israel next week amid growing concerns inside the Biden administration about how the Netanyahu government's judicial overhaul is affecting the Israeli military, two Israeli officials told Axios.

Why it matters: Thousands of Israeli reservists have suspended their service over their opposition to the right-wing government's weakening of the country's Supreme Court. Milley's visit will enable the Biden administration to assess first-hand how deep the crisis inside the IDF goes, and whether it could have any implications for U.S. forces in the Middle East.

Driving the news: The protesting reservists include fighter pilots and members of the intelligence, cyber and special operations units in the IDF. Many stopped reporting for duty or training several weeks ago after the Netanyahu coalition passed a law that will limit the ability of the country's Supreme Court to review government actions.

  • Since then, senior IDF leaders, especially Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar, have warned of a gradual degradation in their readiness for war.
  • The Israeli Air Force is dependent on reservist fighter pilots. The current situation creates an almost immediate preparedness crisis. Israeli reserve pilots train at least once a week in order to maintain their operational skills. Pilots who don't train for several weeks are not allowed to fly.

The big picture: The Pentagon is concerned that the crisis facing the Israeli military could have negative implications for Israel's deterrence strategy and may encourage Iran or Hezbollah to conduct military provocations that could escalate the situation in the region, a U.S. official told Axios several weeks ago.

  • The crisis, especially within the Israeli Air Force, could have negative operational implications for U.S. forces that closely cooperate with Israel in the region. It could also compel the U.S. to send more troops to the region.

State of play: Bar met with a group of reserve pilots last week and admitted there is a significant decrease in preparedness. "It will be hard to restore the situation to what it was," he said, according to a briefing to reporters by the IDF spokesperson.

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed outrage after seeing headlines from the meeting. In a conference call with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi and Bar, he reprimanded the defense leaders and demanded they walk back the quotes. They refused, saying it is their duty to give the facts to the public, according to a report on Israel's Channel 13 confirmed by a senior IDF officer.
  • The incident increased the tension between Netanyahu and the IDF leadership. In a second meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu urged the generals not to make their assessments about the preparedness of the IDF public and warned that everything they say at a hearing of the Knesset foreign relations and security committee will be leaked, according to several press reports.
  • That hearing took place earlier Wednesday. The IDF generals briefed the lawmakers on the preparedness problem, according to people who attended the meeting.
  • Netanyahu's loyalists — first among them, the prime minister's outspoken son — in recent days have also attacked Halevi and blamed him for the crisis. A minister from Netanyahu's Likud party said the reservists who don't report for duty "should be treated like rebels."

Details: Milley is expected to meet with Gallant, Halevi and other senior Israeli security officials, the Israeli officials said.

  • It is unclear whether Milley will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • Joint Staff spokesperson Col. Dave Butler and the IDF declined to comment.
  • The Israeli officials described Milley's trip as a farewell visit due to his planned retirement in October. He was supposed to visit Israel in June but canceled his trip at the last minute after the short-lived Wagner rebellion broke out in Russia.

What to watch: The reservists have made it clear that they will resume volunteer service only if Netanyahu announces he is suspending the judicial overhaul indefinitely.

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