Israel: Netanyahu is ‘at odds’ with Defence minister – coalition under strain

Middle East Monitor  /  August 16, 2023

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s relationship with Defence Minister Yoav Gallant is close to boiling over, Yedioth Ahronoth revealed on Tuesday.

The two men are apparently at odds regarding Gallant’s full support for the Israel Defence Forces and its senior leaders despite more and more army reservists refusing to show up for military service in protest against Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul.

According to The Times of Israel, Netanyahu shouted at his top military leaders last week for disclosing worries about the damage to the country’s defences wrought by reservists suspending voluntary duty. On Friday, the prime minister was reported to have berated IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi and air force head Tomer Bar. This was hours after the IDF confirmed that Bar had warned protesting reserve pilots about “damage to the army’s [combat] readiness” getting worse.

“It looks like the army is running the country,” Netanyahu reportedly yelled at the pair, according to unsourced reports carried by Channel 12 and Channel 13.

Yedioth Ahronoth reported one officer as saying that Gallant is ready to pay the price for his position in support of senior officers. Netanyahu, said the unnamed officer, doubts Gallant’s loyalty, and is pushing him into the corner waiting for an opportunity to oust him.

Both Halevi and Bar refused requests to take back their comments about the army’s combat readiness. Halevi was quoted as telling Netanyahu that, “It is our duty to issue a warning when the army’s fitness is at risk.”

Netanyahu’s office denied that he had yelled during the discussions. “Even when the prime minister speaks forcefully,” officials told Channel 13, “he does not yell.”

Regional Cooperation Minister David Amsalem said yesterday that, “A regular army would have dealt with it [refusal to show up for service] as a rebellion, which will have serious implications for the nation.” He suggested that what the army refuseniks are saying is if the legislation is not stopped they will break apart the army. “And it does not matter what will happen on the northern border or with Iran.”

The right-wing minister stressed that it is the task of Halevi as well as Tomer Bar and Shin Bet head Ronen Bar to deal harshly with such reservists, but they have failed to do so.


Netanyahu’s coalition strained by reservists’ judicial protests

Middle East Monitor  /  August 15, 2023

Ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet sparred, on Tuesday, over the military’s handling of reservists protesting against his coalition’s judicial overhaul plan,  as concerns mounted for Israel’s war-readiness, Reuters reports.

Protest leaders say thousands of reservists have stopped reporting for duty. Among them are hundreds of air force pilots, or navigators, whose absence from weekly refresher flights means that, by next month, they may no longer qualify for combat.

“There is a mutiny within the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) and any military deals with insurgents as insurgents should be dealt with,” Dudi Amsalem, a minister in the Justice Ministry told Army Radio.

“In 15, 20, 30 years, this’ll be studied in history books, which will note who the Chief of Staff was and who the Air Force chief was,” Amsalem said.

Similar criticisms have been made by other lawmakers in Netanyahu’s hard-right coalition, whose January-launched drive to change the justice system has sparked unprecedented protests and drawn concern from Western allies.

Amsalem’s remarks drew swift rebuke from Defence Minister, Yoav Gallant.

“If you cannot contain yourselves, then attack me, the Defence Minister, I am in charge of the Chief of Staff and Air Force Commander,” he posted on social media platform, X.

He later published photos of himself with Air Force Commander, Tomer Bar, at Ramon Air Base and a video in which he told pilots that they had his full support.

The seeping of the judicial furore into the conscript military, which Israelis have long viewed as an apolitical melting pot, has exacerbated Israel’s worst political crises in years.

The military has, so far, acknowledged a “limited” impact from the reservists’ protest, citing the loss of some veteran instructors from the Air Force’s flight school.

As Israel faces potential flare-ups with Iran, Lebanon and the Palestinians, Netanyahu on Sunday convened the top brass for consultations.

“Israel faces great challenges and, as Prime Minister, I am working day and night together with the Defence Minister, Chief of Staff, senior IDF commanders and the security forces to ensure Israel’s security,” he said on Monday.