More than a thousand Israeli military reservists have threatened to stop reporting for duty -- or resign altogether -- if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government proceeds with a plan to overhaul the country's judicial system this month. Among those threatening to withhold their service are hundreds of elite fighter pilots and commandos.
Given reservists are an essential part of Israel's military, and especially its air force, the country's military leaders say such a mass walkout could have a significant impact on the country's military operational capacity. They also fear a scenario where activism by reservists could inspire absenteeism among the country's full-time service members.
In a letter sent to the commander of Sayeret Matkal, a highly secretive commando unit, more than 300 reservists declared:
“In the face of recent legislative procedures that the government is advancing…while completely ignoring that this legislation is destroying the shared basis of Israeli society and tearing apart the nation, our conscience does not permit us to stand aside.”
Other reservists are drafting group resignation letters with the intent of submitting them in the coming days, reports The New York Times. In contrast to American reservists, who typically drill for just a weekend a month and two weeks in the summer, Israeli pilots are required to participate in multiple training exercises per month, and routinely participate in warfare.
The threat of a weakening of Israeli's military capacity comes during a year of heightened hostilities, with the Israeli Defense Forces targeting adversaries in the occupied West Bank, the Gaza Strip, southern Lebanon and Syria.
Political turmoil has steadily boiled across Israel since Netanyahu re-ascended to the prime minister's office by assembling a ruling coalition that is dominated to an unprecedented extent by ultra-nationalist and religious extremists. Inside Israel, the most controversial item on the government's agenda is a scheme to overhaul the country's judicial system.
Over much of the year, the country has witnessed massive protests against the plan. In March, Netanyahu bowed to the pressure and put the legislative initiative on pause, saying, "When there’s an option to avoid civil war through dialogue, I take a time-out for dialogue."
Now, however, seeking to more incrementally effect change, the ruling coalition is pushing to enact a law by month's end that would remove the supreme court's ability to block government action or policy via an evaluation of its "reasonableness" -- a standard that Netanyahu and allies say is so flexible that it gives the high court undue power.
Netanyahu pushed back against the newest wave of resistance to the judicial reform, saying concerns over negating the reasonableness standard are "removed from reality and intended to scare people over nothing.” He also admonished service members threatening not to show up for duty, saying, "In a democracy, the military is subordinate to the elected government and not the opposite.”
However, 63-year-old Gal Nufar, a colonel in an airborne unit, tells the Journal, "Originally I thought doing something like this would be really like betraying the army. But over the past months, I see that they are bringing us to the point that I’m most fearful of…a regime coup that won’t allow for any balance or any checks on the government.”