Israel is still reeling from the fallout of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial changes as protests continue, legal challenges are launched and military personnel go on strike – possibly threatening the country’s military readiness.
The internal rift is months old now, and local media reported this week that senior elements within Israel’s military and security establishment believe the prime minister is trying to deflect responsibility for the army reservist strikes on to top military officials.
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Netanyahu has demanded that the top brass maintain military readiness, and far-right parliamentarians have attacked the army leadership for “allowing” reservists to refuse to report for duty.
Netanyahu’s son, Yair, on Monday shared and quickly deleted a Facebook post that branded Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi the “most failed and destructive chief of staff in the history of the [army]” for not cracking down on reservists.
Defence Minister Yoav Gallant swiftly defended the general, as Netanyahu’s top political rival, Yair Lapid, accused the prime minister of a “cowardly” attempt to shirk responsibility for the crisis.
At a briefing on military readiness late Sunday, Halevi urged Netanyahu to condemn the attacks by parliamentarians on army officials, according to local media.
Instead, reports about the meeting said, the premier shouted at Halevi and other generals for speaking publicly on the negative repercussions of thousands of reservists refusing to report for duty. He was also quoted as telling the army chiefs that the government orders the military in a democracy, not the other way around.
The premier’s administration, described as the most far-right in Israel’s history, had for months pushed for judicial changes boosting the powers of the executive branch, which were passed by the Knesset last month.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments about the legislation on September 12. Proponents say it prevents left-wing bias in the Israeli judicial apparatus and opponents argue that it promotes authoritarianism by weakening the balance of power between the judicial branch and the government.
Local media last month reported that army intelligence had warned Netanyahu at least four times before the legislation passed that rivals could take advantage of Israel’s domestic trouble.
Some 10,000 reservists in the Israeli army have said they will refuse to report for duty if the changes are not shelved, something Netanyahu decried as “insubordination” in a cabinet recording leaked to a television station last month.
This week he said in a statement he “utterly rejected the phenomenon of conditional reserve duty”, but reservist protester groups continued to accuse him of playing down risks to Israeli military readiness.
The protesting reservists include hundreds of reserve pilots, who need refresher flights to be considered combat-ready.
Missing refreshers for a few months means they cannot be called up, a disaster for an air force that relies heavily on reserve pilots.
Originally envisioned as an apolitical body that would bring Israelis together, the army continues to have considerable influence in Israel, but it now reflects the divisions in Israeli society as people and soldiers debate the effects of Netanyahu’s policy push.
Amid the infighting, Israel continues to launch raids on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.