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Majority of reserve pilots in elite Israeli fighter jet squadron boycott training to protest judicial reforms

Israeli pilots and soldiers fear a weaker judicial system could expose them to ICC prosecution

A graduation ceremony for soldiers who have completed the IAF Flight Course, at the Hatzerim Air Base in the Negev desert, June 27, 2019. Photo by Mila Aviv/Flash90

A large majority of reserve pilots in Israel's elite 69th Squadron – 37 out of 40 – announced on Sunday that they would boycott a scheduled combat training session on Wednesday to protest the Netanyahu government’s controversial judicial reform plans

The elite squadron, known as the "Hammers," operates the Israeli Air Force’s strategically important F-15 fighter jet fleet. Located in the Hatzerim Israeli Air Force Base in Israel’s southern Negev Desert, the fighter squadron made headlines worldwide in September 2007 for Operation Orchard, the bombing of the Syrian nuclear reactor. 

The reserve pilots reportedly informed IAF Commander Tomer Bar that they would not attend the upcoming training session. However, they stressed that they would be available for necessary operational missions. 

“On Wednesday, March 8, we will devote our time to discourse and thinking for the sake of democracy and the unity of the people, and, therefore, we will not report to reserve duty on this day, with the exception of operational activity. During the rest of the week, we will report [for duty] as planned,” stated the reserve pilots in a letter to their commanders. 

The Netanyahu government’s judicial reform plans have caused a major rift in Israeli society, specifically regarding how the reforms will strengthen or weaken Israel's democratic nature.

Many Israeli pilots and soldiers fear that they could be more exposed to potential prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC) should the reforms weaken Israel’s judiciary system.

While sympathetic to the pilots, Bar expressed their responsibility to fully maintain air force operations.

“My friends, you are the volunteers for long-term active reserve service. You’re committed, dedicated and willing to sacrifice due to the realization of the heavy task on your shoulders. Our shared responsibility is to maintain the ability of the Air Force, to meet its tasks and to maintain its cohesion and competence,” stated Bar.

Israeli military concerns about ICC prosecution date back to early 2021, when the ICC launched a probe into alleged Israeli war crimes against Palestinians dating back as far as June 2014, including military operations against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip and its expansion of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

At the time, the decision drew strong condemnation from the Israeli government, with Netanyahu accusing the ICC of hypocrisy and anti-Semitism, while he vowed “to fight for the truth.”

More recently, the ICC was approached by Al Jazeera network to investigate accusations that the Israel Defense Forces deliberately shot to death Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May 2022, while she was covering clashes between the IDF and Palestinian gunmen in Jenin.

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

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