image Photo: Flash90

IAF Pilots Join Reform Protests

Dozens of Israeli air force reservists declared they would not turn up for a training day in protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial reforms.

By Erin Viner

37 out of 40 pilots and navigators in a F-15 squadron said they would skip drills scheduled for Wednesday, and instead “devote our time to dialogue and reflection for the sake of democracy and national unity,” according to a letter circulated in local media.

As the nation’s major strategic arm, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) has traditionally relied on reservists in wartime and requires crews who have been discharged to train regularly in order to maintain readiness. The striking IAF reservists did affirm they would suspend their one-day protest if required to carry out actual operations.

Today, all of the 10 living former IAF Commanders sent a written notice to Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to voice “deep concern the processes taking place in the State of Israel and in the Air Force these days.”

“From a deep familiarity with the central and special weight of the Force in national security, which you are well aware of, we are fearful over the consequences of these processes and the serious and tangible danger posed to the national security of the State of Israel,” they wrote, stressing that, “The core of the Force’s strength is the special cohesion of its servicepeople, standing and reserves. The corps members are all motivated by a deep sense of mission and belief in the righteousness of our way,” while appealing to the Premier and Defense Minister “to stop and find a solution to the emerging situation as soon as possible.”

The appeal was signed by Maj. Gen. (Res.) Dan Tolkowsky, Maj. Gen. (Res.) David Ivry, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Avihu Ben-Nun, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Herzl Bodinger, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Eitan Ben Eliyahu, Lt. Gen. (Res.) Dan Halutz, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Eliezer Shkedi, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Ido Nehoshtan, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Amir Eshel, and Maj. Gen. (Res.) Amikam Norkin.

About 300 reservists of the IDF Artillery Corps also today announced they would participate in protests against the coalition’s reform plans. “The regime coup will cause Israel to cease to be a democratic state in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence and cease to be the state for which we fought for,” said the strongly-worded letter sent to Gallant and IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi sent by the reservists – who include several senior officers.

In a blow striking particularly close to home to Prime the Minister, veterans of the elite IDF Sayeret Matkal reconnaissance commando unit –  where both Netanyahu and his late brother Yonatan had served – also sent a letter to the Israeli leader.

Yoni Netanyahu, who is regarded as a national hero, fell during a rescue mission to free Israeli and Jewish hostages held hostage by Palestinian terrorists, who had hijacked a plane re-routed to Uganda in July 1976.

“We were privileged to be among the handful of fighters to break into Entebbe, under our cool-headed and brave commander Yoni Netanyahu, who consciously and with open eyes sacrificed himself for the State of Israel and the people of Israel,” veterans of what has been hailed as the country’s most successful counter-terror missions wrote to the Premier. “It’s sad, but you, Bibi, are consciously and with open eyes sacrificing the State of Israel and the people of Israel for your own interests.”

Netanyahu responded by posting a photograph of himself at conscription age on Twitter, captioned: “When called up for reserve duty, we always turn up. We are one nation.”

Outcry by the nation’s current and past service members is the latest and highest-profile of a growing list of opponents of the judicial bill, several clauses of which have already received preliminary approval by the Knesset. Critics of the bills argue that the plans would rescind court protection to protect the IDF from prosecution by global bodies such as the International Criminal Court.

On Saturday, 160,000 Israeli citizens held the ninth consecutive protest march. Weekly  with some protest leaders – among them former military chiefs – who have warned that a non-democratic turn in government would warrant mass-disobedience within the ranks.

Weekly and increasingly raucous nationwide demonstrations erupted just days after the Netanyahu government took office, following announcement by Israeli Justice Minister Yariv Levin of a sweeping “reform of governance” that will limit Supreme Court rulings against government moves or Knesset laws, while increasing politicians’ input over nominations to the bench.

Israel’s right-wing 37th government, an alliance between the Premier’s Likud party with several smaller religious and hard-right nationalist factions, asserts it holds the mandate for changes, deemed necessary to curb overreach by activist judges and restore balance between the legislative, executive and judiciary..

Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is himself on trial on corruption charges which he denies, has dismissed the protests as refusal by leftist adversaries to accept the results of the 1 November’s election which resulted in one of the most right-wing governments in Israel’s history. He has ardently defended the judicial overhaul.

IDF Chief of Staff Halevi has expressed his own concerns to Prime Minister Netanyahu, yesterday calling on the government and its opponents to begin negotiations to immediately to resolve the domestic crisis. Last Friday, he directed the members of the General Staff Forum to hold a command dialogue, each commander with his own unit. A military said Lieutenant General Halevi “is aware of the public discourse and division but will not allow any harm to the IDF’s ability to carry out its most important mission – defend Israel’s security.”

In related developments, Cabinet ministers yesterday pushed forward legislation as part of the reform plan to permit Netanyahu to keep $270,000 he was given by a late cousin to cover legal expenses he and his wife Sara have incurred. This, despite complaints by Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara that the move would facilitate unlimited corruption and last year’s order by the Supreme Court that he must return the funds.