A loss of trust and competence sounds the alarm for the IDF

Adnan Abu Amer

Middle East Monitor  /  August 8, 2023

As protests continue against the judicial overhaul proposed by the Israeli government, the leadership of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) fears an increase of discontent within its ranks as well as an increase in its lack of competence. The signs get worse every day, prompting army commanders to warn of weakness that will affect its readiness for war.

Senior officers have admitted to an unprecedented crisis in the IDF’s competence; it’s more serious than what is presented to the public. Hundreds of pilots accuse the chief of staff and minister of national security of lying when they claim that the army’s competence has not been damaged.

It is true that the IDF may be prepared for war, but there has been serious damage to relations between its various arms. The number of reserve pilots and officers who are refusing to turn up for volunteer service is much larger than what the IDF claims. More than a thousand have announced the suspension of their service as a prelude to steps against the government. There are concerns that Israel may have reached a point where the air force may be unable, and even unwilling, to protect it. This reveals a dangerous blindness to reality, in a way that reminds me of the misguided smugness that proceeded Israel’s defeat in the 1973 war.

Lack of trust within the Israeli army is more concerning than its loss of suitability for war as many pilots describe their senior officers as arrogant. The biggest test for those who are refusing to volunteer will be the upcoming air command exercise, because the air force operations HQ is mostly staffed by reserve personnel. This crisis also affects other IDF units, and Israel fears that it will soon affect the artillery and the accuracy and thus effectiveness of its missiles.

Dozens of reserve officers in the elite intelligence unit have also announced their discontent, as have experienced naval officers. Their absence in operational roles endangers lives within the ranks of those they should be leading.

The data suggests that the IDF is not confident in its capability to fulfil its role if the judicial overhaul is passed by the Knesset. All arms of the IDF will be affected negatively, and this will in turn affect their combat readiness and effectiveness.

All of this coincides with the Israeli opposition attracting support from more senior officers from the army, the Mossad and Shin Bet spy agencies, and the police, including a long list of retired generals. Many have sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accusing him of fatally harming state security, and declaring their support for the reservists who confirmed their suspension of military service.

They say that he is directly responsible for the grave damage to the IDF and state security, and that the judicial overhaul proposed by his government violates the social contract that has existed for 75 years between the state and thousands of IDF troops who have volunteered for many years to defend it.

It is interesting that reservists of the IDF’s 8200 intelligence unit have been involved in the protests and sent a message to the heads of the government, army and intelligence services; to Knesset members and the minister of national security, warning of dire consequences in the event that the overhaul is passed by parliament. This unit collects the most sensitive intelligence, which makes it indispensable to the armed forces’ daily operations.

At the same time, Chief of Staff Herzi Halevy is under tremendous pressure to tell Defence Minister Yoav Gallant that the army is no longer ready to defend the state. He cannot ignore the signs, which means that he needs to re-examine everything and monitor IDF competence even as hundreds of personnel announce an end to their volunteer service.

The pressure on the IDF is becoming unbearable, with fears mounting as the tension coincides with security threats on the northern border with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and the current unrest in the occupied West Bank. That’s the context of the crisis within the Israel Defence Forces.

As powerful individuals line up to accuse the Netanyahu government of damaging the IDF’s competence, it is being said that if the judicial overhaul legislation is passed Israel citizens will not be obliged to comply with their obligations to the government. If too many people refuse to serve in the armed forces, then the infrastructure on which the occupation state has been built will start to collapse.

The situation has pushed some generals to demand the overthrow of the government through non-cooperation and acts of rebellion against the authorities which, they argue, are turning Israel into a right-wing dictatorship. There is no reason in any case for Israelis to cooperate with the government, because the oath taken by IDF personnel focuses on serving the state, its laws and its elected institutions in that order. Their loyalty is due to the state first and foremost, not to the laws enacted by a government to meet the personal needs of its ministers.

The main outcome of the opposition to the judicial review — a “judicial coup” — by senior IDF officers will be that the International Court of Justice in The Hague will be able to investigate Israeli soldiers. Moreover, by pushing ahead with this process, Netanyahu is putting himself and his country at odds with the US administration. He is thus undermining the “common values” upon which the alliance between Israel and the United States is based. This is clearly a decisive moment in Israel’s relatively short history.

Adnan Abu Amer is the head of the Political Science Department at the University of the Ummah in Gaza