Military readiness hurt by reservist protests, Israeli army admits

Thomas Helm

The National  /  August 9, 2023

The volunteer-heavy force has become increasingly politicized as the government steams ahead with a controversial judicial overhaul.

Israel’s army admitted on Tuesday that its readiness has been harmed by waves of military reservists pledging not to serve in protest against divisive government plans to overhaul the country’s judicial system.

The army’s spokesman told Israeli outlet Channel 12 that forces are “ready for war, but there is limited harm in some areas”.

Reserve duty, which is crucial to Israel’s military because it maintains a relatively small standing force, has become increasingly politicized in recent months as mass protests have swept the country over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to drastically curtail the power of the judiciary.

Elite and technologically advanced branches have been particularly affected, including the air force, special forces and the intelligence and cyber community. Many of these branches tend to be called upon far more frequently than regular reserves due to their specialist training.

Chief spokesman Daniel Hagari referenced the case of pilot trainers in particular, of whom “a significant number are deciding not to come”.

Netanyahu’s government, described as the most right-wing in Israeli history, has been pushing for drastic changes to the legal system since it came into power.

Its members say the judiciary has too much power to influence governments, but critics of the overhaul say it is drastic enough to end democracy in Israel.

Military personnel also fear that they could be asked to carry out illegal orders if the power of courts is curtailed.

Hagari went on to say that his colleagues are in dialogue with personnel considering not serving, and that some are “very emotional about this”.

Meanwhile far-right members of Netanyahu’s coalition continue to criticize senior figures in the security establishment.

The Prime Minister spoke to the head of the Shin Bet domestic security service on Monday after coalition members slammed the agency for warning of a wave of terror attacks by Israelis against Palestinians.

Far-right politician Limor Son Har-Melech, among others, earlier criticized the agency’s head for not knowing “how to define who is the enemy”.

One of her former aides was arrested in connection with the killing of a 19-year-old Palestinian on Friday.

Israel’s army nonetheless stressed on Tuesday that it was ready for conflict, an eventuality that many see as increasingly likely as Lebanese militant organization Hezbollah continues to escalate on Israel’s northern border.

The Iran-backed group has been suspected by Israel of detonating explosive devices inside the country in recent months, as well as firing an anti-tank missile towards its border and setting up tents in a contested border area.

Thomas Helm is Jerusalem Correspondent at The National