Netanyahu cools the blame on the protesting reservists as the judicial crisis intensifies


Written by Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered Israeli military reservists protesting his plan for judicial reform a nominal olive branch, tempering his earlier criticism of them as concerns grow about the country’s readiness for war.

Protest leaders say thousands of reservists have stopped working. Among them are hundreds of Air Force pilots or navigators whose absence from weekly replenishment flights means they may no longer be combat-qualified by next month.

As Israel faces potential escalations with Iran, Lebanon and the Palestinians, Netanyahu revolted, in a government recording leaked to a television station on July 12, against what he saw as “insurrection” that threatened military capabilities.

Protesters were outraged by the term, pointing out that many reservists were classified as volunteers, and saying that not showing up was a last resort in defense of Israeli democracy.

Senior officers convened to confer on the crisis late Sunday night, and Netanyahu changed his language somewhat, saying in a statement that he “totally rejects the phenomenon of conditional reserve service.”

The Brothers in Arms group, a group of reservists, appeared unimpressed by the gesture, accusing Netanyahu of downplaying the risks to military readiness.

The leakage of reform into the armed forces, which Israelis have long viewed as a non-political crucible, may be exacerbated by the unprecedented confrontation between the branches of government next month.

The Supreme Court on September 12 will hear arguments against a bill that limits some of its powers to overturn government decisions, which was approved in the parliament controlled by Netanyahu’s national religious coalition.

Limited impact”

Netanyahu was vague about whether he would respond to an illegal ruling. He has argued that the court is interfering with his mandate and has reminded the military that, in a democracy, they are subject to the elected government.

Amos Gilad, a retired Israeli military intelligence general and regional analyst, told Army Radio Monday that such a debate is like “dancing on the deck of the Titanic,” referring to the country’s perceptions of it as vulnerable to its opponents.

The Army has so far acknowledged the “limited” impact of the reserve protest, citing the loss of some veteran instructors from the Air Force’s flight school.

It also said that more than half of the crews taking part in bombing operations in Syria and elsewhere are reservists, indicating the potential impact of the protest on ongoing combat operations.

National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi refused to expand Israel’s military readiness in an interview with Army Radio.

“There are matters that should not be revealed to the ears of our enemies. Until now, the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) can carry out its tasks and the goal is to put this matter behind us,” he said.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Emilia Sithole Matares)

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