Israeli Air Force Chief Maj.-Gen. Tomer Bar said he is expecting protesting reserve pilots to report for duty by Oct. 17, according to Israel's Channel 13 news on Monday.
While the Israeli military usually stays away from politics, the Netanyahu government’s controversial judicial overhaul has created deep divisions within Israeli society, including the Air Force and other branches of the Israel Defense Forces.
In July, over 1,100 reservists in the Israeli Air Force (IAF) announced in a joint letter that they would no longer report for reserve duty due to their opposition to the government’s judicial reform plan.
However, the Air Force chief is pressuring the reservists to report to duty or risk being dismissed from the military.
Many reserve pilots, like a large majority of Israeli citizens, are concerned that the changes to the judicial system in Israel would undermine the nation's democratic nature and, in the worst-case scenario, transform the Jewish state into a non-democratic country.
In August, a number of active-duty Israeli pilots warned Defense Minister Yoav Gallant they would not serve an “authoritarian” Israel.
In addition, they expressed their support for the protesting reserve pilots, warning that they were also considering boycotting their military service if the government did not halt the judicial reform.
While Gallant serves in the Netanyahu government, he has called for political moderation and the need for a wide national consensus as a solution to the current political and legal crisis in Israel.
However, the defense minister has warned against politicization and divisions within the Israeli army.
Gallant reminded the pilots that the IAF represents an essential and central component in defending the existence of the Jewish nation.
“The wall that is the Air Force is strong but small. Every brick that falls undermines the stability of that wall. Therefore, we do not have the privilege of not reporting for missions. The security of the country is greater [in importance] than all of us,” Gallant stated.
The defense minister, however, appears to be an isolated vocal voice of moderation within the Netanyahu coalition government.
Regional Cooperation Minister David Amsalem, who is known as a firebrand in Israeli politics, blasted the military protesters as rebels and demanded they get punished.
“In any normal army, you treat rebels like rebels should be treated,” Amsalem said.
There have been growing concerns that the political and legal controversy could potentially undermine the Israeli military’s capabilities.
In August, Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Daniel Hagari admitted that divisions over the judicial overhaul had caused “limited damage” to the military.
“There is a readiness for war now, but there is limited damage to certain units,” Hagari admitted, adding that “in the Air Force, it is more pronounced.”
The IAF is widely considered the spearhead of the Israeli army and plays a central role against the military threat of Iran and its terror proxies.
Israel needs its top pilots and elite military units to remain active in order to retain their capabilities and focus on the country’s defense.
In July, the IAF revealed it would acquire an additional squadron of the fifth F-35 fighter jets, which are expected to play a crucial role in any potential military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.