Hundreds of elite IDF reservists stop showing up for duty over judicial overhaul

Hundreds of elite Israel Defense Forces reserve soldiers halted their voluntary service on Sunday, carrying out a threat issued weeks ago in response to government plans to radically change the justice system.

Organizers of the group, which said they include 450 officers and soldiers in the military intelligence special operations division and 200 in cyber warfare units, said on Thursday they would stop presenting themselves as volunteers, citing government plans to organize the final votes in the Knesset. on legislation that would allow significantly limit the courts or legislators in being able to impeach an unfit prime minister.

“We are stopping volunteering for Reserve Service effective today, and will be happy to return to volunteering when democracy is safe,” the Cpl said. “Aleph” – who can only be identified by his rank and the initial of his first name in Hebrew – told Kan public radio on Sunday morning.

Aleph, who serves in the Special Operations Division, called on other volunteer reservists to stop reporting for duty “until this coup attempt is over.”

“The difference between serving in Putin’s army and serving in the IDF is going to be erased,” Aleph said.

Unlike most reservists who are called up for duty with a formal order from the IDF, soldiers from the Special Operations Division and cyber warfare units report more frequently and voluntarily, often not in an emergency, due to the nature of their position.

Israeli reserve soldiers and activists protest against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, in Bnei Brak on March 16, 2023. (Flash90)

Also on Sunday, some 300 Israeli Air Force reserve soldiers and officers, including aircrews, drone operators and air traffic control operators, said they would not report for training this week.

In messages to their superiors, which were passed on to reporters, the reservists said they would spend most of their time this week calling for dialogue on judicial overhaul and “fighting for democracy”.

Calls among IDF reservists to refuse to serve because of the government’s legislative efforts have rattled the military in recent weeks, growing in numbers even as they face condemnation from senior opposition and coalition politicians .

At the end of February, hundreds of reservists from the Special Operations Division published an open letter first warning of plans to end their voluntary service if a broad compromise on the overhaul is not reached. And a week later, soldiers from cyber warfare units similarly warned they would stop volunteering for the reserves if the overhaul is approved.

These letters and appeals have been joined in recent weeks by reservists from virtually every branch of the military, including fighter pilots, plainclothes infantry officers, submariners, sailors, helicopter pilots and others.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that threats by reservists to refuse to serve if the government’s judicial overhaul is passed harm national security.

In a speech last week, military leader Herzi Halevi said that “the Israeli army will not be able to act without the volunteer spirit of the reservists and their will [to serve]which depends on the preservation of the IDF as a people’s army in a democratic Jewish state.

IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi speaks during a military ceremony for reservist troops at Tel Aviv University, March 12, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Opposition figures have said they sympathize with the sentiment behind the reservist appeals, but cannot support such moves.

“I am against the refusal. I don’t think this is the right way. I understand pain, grief, terror and fury. I think that’s a mistake. We have an army, and there must be no denial,” said opposition leader Yair Lapid. said earlier this month.

Benny Gantz, leader of the National Unity party – former IDF chief and former defense minister – said recently that IDF reservists must “continue to serve, to show up no matter what, to protect this country with protests and to protect it with [military] forays…despite the pain.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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