More than 1,100 Israeli air force reservists on Friday threatened to not report for duty if the country’s far-right government proceeds with a set of highly controversial judicial reforms critics say dangerously erode democracy.
“When we pledged to dedicate our lives to the country, we never thought we would reach a day where the contract between us and the state would be breached,” the IAF reservists—who include hundreds of pilots, drone operators, and others—wrote in a letter to Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi.
“For decades, we left everything behind and came forward resolutely to defend Israel, and now we find ourselves fighting for democracy,” the signers added.
🚨Earthquake in the Israeli Air Force: More than 1,000 active reservists, including hundreds of combat pilots, say they will no longer serve if Netanyahu's judicial overhaul continues. This means the Air Force will lose operational preparedness for war. 🚨https://t.co/WoA4nXdPBd— Amir Tibon (@amirtibon) July 21, 2023
The reservists are joining Israelis in sounding the alarm over a deeply controversial overhaul of the country’s legal system critics have condemned as a “judicial coup.”
Earlier this month, the far-right governing coalition led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu advanced a key component of the reforms—a move to repeal the “reasonableness” standard used by the Israeli Supreme Court to overrule egregious government decisions—amid ongoing nationwide street protests.
“The legislation, which allows the government to act in an extremely unreasonable manner, will harm the security of the state of Israel, will break the trust and violate our consent to continue risking our lives—and will very sadly leave us with no choice but to refrain from volunteering for reserve duty,” the reservists wrote.
In an unprecedented act in history, more than a thousand pilots and other personnel in the Israeli Air Force reserve said they would stop serving if the law to reduce judicial power is approved.— Ronen Bergman (@ronenbergman) July 21, 2023
W\ @PatrickKingsley via @nytimes @nytimesworld
Haaretzreports the letter’s 1,142 signatories include “235 fighter pilots, 98 transport pilots, 89 helicopter pilots, 91 pilots serving in the flight school, and 165 elite air force commandos.”
The reservists’ threat had been anticipated. On Thursday evening, Netanyahu said in a televised address that “in a democracy, the military is subordinate to the government, and does not compel the government.”
“Amending the reasonableness standard will only strengthen democracy, and certainly not endanger it. What will endanger democracy is refusal to serve in the military,” the prime minister insisted. “When military figures try to threaten to dictate the government’s policies, it is unacceptable in any democracy, and if they manage to make good on their threats, that is the end of democracy.”
Military experts warned that if the reservists follow through on their threat, the air force would not be operationally prepared for war.
💥No enemy has ever inflicted such harm on Israeli forces. Israeli Air Force Commander Tomer Bar today said attacks by Netanyahu's ministers against military cohesion, "pilots and others, will take years to repair." pic.twitter.com/TYcoRrtZAm— Noga Tarnopolsky נגה טרנופולסקי نوغا ترنوبولسكي💙 (@NTarnopolsky) July 20, 2023
IAF pilots have previously refused to fly assassination missions and other sorties that could harm civilians—the IDF relies heavily upon its warplanes to bombard Gaza during its periodic assaults on Palestinian resistance, killing many men, women, and children along with militants—but experts say nothing on this scale has ever been reported before.
The air force reservists’ move follows the July 11 announcement by hundreds of IDF reservists specializing in cyberwarfare that they will stop reporting for duty over the judicial overhaul.
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