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Israeli Air Force pilots warn IDF chief: Reservists will stop flying if reform passes

Reservists fear judicial reforms will harm judicial independence

Illustrative - An Israeli Air Force pilot at an international aerial training exercise at the Ovda Air Force base in southern Israel, Nov. 11, 2019. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A group of Israeli Air Force reserve officers have warned IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi that they would stop reporting for duty if the ruling coalition’s judicial reforms pass into law. 

Halevi met with a group of reservist leaders on Tuesday evening, and a summary of that meeting was leaked to Hebrew news sites on Wednesday. 

A group of Air Force reservists had previously threatened not to show up for training on Wednesday. They eventually agreed to attend a meeting organized to address their objections to the judicial reforms. 

Halevi spoke to the reservist leaders about the importance of reservists to the Israel Defense Forces, especially the Air Force. 

“The deterrent power that the Air Force generates, and its strength, are what keep the Middle East aligned, in a reality where there are many enemies in the region for the State of Israel,” Halevi told the pilots. 

Halevi also spoke against several politicians recently calling the reservists “traitors.” 

“What everyone in the room has in common is the love of country, the love of the IDF, the willingness to risk important things,” Halevi said. 

“The reservists are an integral part of the IDF, all of them in all missions. I oppose the inappropriate statements towards reservists and those serving. Saying ‘traitors’ should not be said. There are none here,” Halevi told the group. 

Halevi stressed the importance of the IDF’s work in allowing political debate. He said that the freedom to protest is one of the rights that the IDF guarantees in its organization. 

The IDF chief also expressed his concern about disagreements in Israeli society, saying, “There are cracks that can form that we will not be able to repair later.” 

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told the reservist leaders, “It was important for me to hear from you. I am a representative of the [army] in the government and the representative of the government in the [army].” 

He also warned that refusal to serve threatens the State of Israel’s existence. 

“Insubordination erodes the most basic element of the state’s existence – security. I will not allow it. I will make sure that your voice is heard where necessary,” Gallant said. 

After the meeting, several of the reservists expressed frustration with Gallant, who they said only came with political slogans. 

“The only refuseniks [people who refuse to do military service] are all those ministers and MKs who did not serve one day in the army – and there are many of them,” one leader said. 

Besides the pilots, reservists from other IDF units, such as the elite Golani reconnaissance unit and the Magellan commando unit, as well as another elite unit that requested not to be named, issued a letter expressing their fears about the reforms and calling on Gallant to have the legislation stopped. 

“In this state of affairs, we will not be able to volunteer for reserve duty,” the letter said. 

During an interview with Channel 12 news on Tuesday, former IAF Commander Eliezer Shkedi called the threat to refuse military reserve service a “dangerous precedent” during an interview with Channel 12 news. 

Shkedi called for an immediate halt to legislation in order to work out a compromise, but said that “refusal is forbidden because we must not play into the hands of the enemy.”  

That same day, the group of pilots who said they would not attend training on Wednesday, agreed to show up for duty. 

Shkedi is one of 10 former Air Force commanders who signed a letter written to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Gallant detailing their concerns about the judicial reforms. 

Some reservists have expressed concern that the reforms could open them up to prosecution by the International Criminal Court. Israel has argued in the past that its own courts are independent and, therefore, able to investigate and prosecute incidents of wrongdoing by Israeli soldiers. 

If international courts were to perceive Israel’s judiciary as no longer being independent, they could potentially agree to take on cases against Israeli soldiers. 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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