Ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet sparred on Tuesday over the military’s handling of reservists protesting against his coalition’s judicial overhaul plan, as concerns mounted for Israel’s war-readiness.
Protest leaders say thousands of reservists have stopped reporting for duty. Among them are hundreds of air force pilots and navigators whose absence from weekly refresher flights means that by next month, they may no longer qualify for combat.
“There is a mutiny within the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) and any military deals with insurgents as insurgents should be dealt with,” Dudi Amsalem, a minister in the Justice Ministry, told Army Radio.
“In 15, 20, 30 years, this’ll be studied in history books, which will note who the chief of staff was and who the air force chief was,” Amsalem said.
Similar criticisms have been made by some other lawmakers in Netanyahu’s hard-right coalition, whose January-launched drive to change the justice system has sparked unprecedented protests and drawn concern from Western allies.
Amsalem’s remarks drew swift rebuke from Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and later from Netanyahu.
“If you cannot contain yourselves, then attack me, the defense minister, I am in charge of the chief of staff and air force commander,” he posted on social media platform X.
He published photos of himself with Air Force Commander Tomer Bar at Ramon air base and a video in which he told pilots that they had his full backing.
Netanyahu later published a joint statement with Gallant, in which he said the two were in lockstep in their support for Israel’s military commanders, attacks on whom they both utterly reject.
The premier in March said he was firing Gallant after he came out against the judicial drive but eventually kept him in office.
The seeping of the judicial furor into the armed forces, which Israelis have long viewed as an apolitical melting pot, has exacerbated Israel’s worst political crises in years.
The military has so far acknowledged a “limited” impact from the reservists’ protest, citing the loss of some veteran instructors from the air force’s flight school.
As Israel faces potential flare-ups with Iran, Lebanon and the Palestinians, Netanyahu on Sunday convened the top brass for consultations after which he somewhat cooled his censure of the protesting reservists.