IAF chief says pilots refusing service over judicial revamp opposition may be booted

Israeli Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar is reportedly planning to start reserving pilots who refuse to serve in protest against the government’s judicial reform plans, signaling a tougher approach to threats from the latest wave significant of reserve soldiers. saying they will no longer be present for service or training as long as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline coalition moves forward with legislation that will significantly weaken the judiciary.

The legislative push was temporarily paused last week, following mass protests after Netanyahu announced the dismissal of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant over his public warnings about the security implications of the coalition’s proposals and his call for a halt to talks. allow compromises. But the opposition is very distrustful of the overtures because some members of the coalition vow to pick up early right when they left after the Knesset Easter break and push forward, starting with a bill to politicize appointments judges. Talks about compromise are taking place under the auspices of President Isaac Herzog. Anti-reform protesters, who turned out in droves for the 13th week in a row to rally against the government, are demanding that the coalition scrap the bills entirely instead of pausing the campaign for the legislation.

Gallant has yet to be formally fired, but in a televised address on March 25, he cited a “tangible threat” to the security of the state and an erosion of Israel’s source of strength – the military – amid a growing divide in society and opposition in degrees.

According to a Channel 12 report on Sunday, the IAF Bar recently spoke to senior air force commanders to inform them of this new approach and said any new threats by reserve pilots not reporting for duty would be met with sanctions and that they could be removed from operational activity. Haaretz reported that Bar said it would not be possible to participate in operational activities if pilots miss training, citing a source with knowledge of the conversation.

Reserve pilots train frequently and missing multiple sessions can have an impact.

A spokesman for the Defense Forces told Haaretz in response that the military “will not address what is said in closed forums,” but that, in the past few weeks, “all the commanders in the IDF have been holding talks with their subordinates , on active duty and with the reserves, in order to strengthen the cohesion of the IDF and maintain its competence.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant arrives at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on March 27, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Last month, 37 out of 40 reservists in the IAF’s 69th Squadron said they would miss a single training session, prompting widespread consternation, and joining a growing list of units in the IDF, including some of the most elite, whose members threatened not to show. up amid broad opposition to the government’s plans.

The squadron – known as the Hammers – operates the F-15I fighter jet out of Hatzerim air base in southern Israel.

The bar then suspended — and quickly returned to service — reserve fighter pilot Colonel (res.) Gilad Peled for allegedly leading calls to refuse to show up for duty. Peled had been suspended indefinitely by the Bar, a decision he argued was unfair and vowed to appeal.

In a statement at the time, the military said the IAF was under the “false impression” that Peled was organizing and coordinating refusal to serve among other reserve pilots, and “has come to the conclusion that formal behavior must be screened during the this complicated period. .” Peled told Bar that there was a misunderstanding; that he was really against the refusal, and he did not want to organize pilots without showing up for duty.

Earlier that week, a group of IAF officers warned IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi that the majority of their fellow active reserve pilots would stop reporting for duty if the government passes the judicial reform bid. The warning appeared to be the most widely expressed by members of the security forces, as opposition to the government’s judicial reform effort deepened into the ranks of the military.

Outgoing Commander of Ramat David Air Force Base, Col. Gilad Peled, July 26, 2022. (Nevo Levin/Israel Air Force)

Military, government and opposition leaders rejected the soldiers’ protests, saying the army should be kept separate from politics and warning that mass incoordination would harm national security.

On Friday, Walla reported that the battalion commander in the Givati ​​Brigade has been instructed to call in clarified reserves who do not show up for the scheduled service as a protest against the reform and discipline them when appropriate. The commander also reportedly ordered that additional call-outs to those reserves be suspended until further notice.

So far, a reserve staff commander in the brigade has been suspended after reportedly refusing to report for reserve duty, pending an interview to consider transfer or dismissal. Eight other soldiers and an officer have been arrested for questioning

A military spokesman told Walla that the brigade has carried out successful operational activity in the North West Bank over the past few months “during which over 100 percent of the reserve personnel required to meet the standard for operational deployment missions have demonstrated.”

Late last month, brigade reserves were called up for a one-day training session, and about 1% of them did not show up in protest, the military said. “Reservists who are called to duty are required, by order, to report for duty according to the set date. Non-attendance is examined according to the individual circumstances of each case,” the military said.

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