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Netanyahu, Gallant Defend Top Army Brass Under Fire on Reservist Refusal

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant seen at the IDF induction center in Tel Aviv on August 13, 2023. (Credit: Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Attacks against the army’s top brass are unacceptable, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant jointly said as the debate over whether the reservists’ protest moment has harmed the army’s combat readiness hit a new level of personal insults on Tuesday.

The two leaders rejected “any attack on senior security establishment officials” and said they “fully back the commanders and soldiers of the IDF, who are working day and night for the security of Israel.”

They added that they were “working together in close cooperation… to ensure the security of the state and its citizens.”

It was an unusual show of unity for two men who have been politically at odds. It was Gallant’s third statement on the matter in the last day, but Netanyahu’s first.

It came 24 hours after his son Yair initially shared and then deleted a social media post calling IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Herzi Halevi “the biggest failure and most destructive chief of staff in history.”

The post was originally penned by Erez Tadmor, a publicist who has worked for the Likud Party and run in the party’s primaries and one of the founders of the right-wing Im Tirtzu organization.

Tadmor is among those who blame Halevi for not taking a strong stand against reservists who have threatened not to show up for training to protest the government’s judicial reform plan.

They fear such a move harms the army’s ability to fight at a time when it is facing threats from Hezbollah and Iran. Supporters of the reservists contend that the insults leveled against the military protesters were weakening the army and harming morale.

MK Dudi Amsalem reacts during a plenum session at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on December 19, 2022. (Credit: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

David Amsalem Calls for Protest Leaders to be Jailed for Life

On Tuesday morning, Regional Cooperation Minister David Amsalem jumped into the fray calling the reservist refusal movement a “rebellion within the army,” explaining that it must be treated as such.

“There is refusal and there is not showing up for service,” he said.

“A regular army would have dealt with it as a rebellion, which will have serious implications for the nation,” he said, adding that the reservists were using force to subvert the will of a democratically elected government.

“What they are saying here is, if you do not stop the legislation, we will break apart the army. And it doesn’t matter what will happen on the northern border or with Iran,” Amsalem said.

“If 90% of the reservists do not want to fly, then [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah can figure out what to do,” Amsalem said, warning that as a result, missiles could hit Tel Aviv.

It is the task of Halevi as well as the heads of the air force Tomer Bar and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) Ronen Bar to deal harshly with such reservists, but they have failed to do so, Amsalem stated.

“It is on their watch. It will be noted in the pages of history who was the chief of staff and who was the commander of the air force – and what happened. The historians will write it down.” Amsalem said.

He called for the head of the Shin Bet to arrest the major backers of the protest movement against judicial reform including former prime minister Ehud Barak, former IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz, and Supreme Court justice Aharon Barak. They should be punished to the maximum extent under the law and jailed for the rest of their lives, he said.

Gallant attempted to draw political fire away from the army’s top brass, stating, “If you want to attack someone, attack me. I’m the defense minister, I am in charge of the chief of staff and the commander of the air force.”

He urged both the politicians and the IDF reservists to “take the IDF out of the political discussion. It is the protective tool that gives life to the people of Israel.”

Opposition leader and former prime minister Yair Lapid defended the reservist refusal movement and attacked Amsalem.

“The commanders of the IDF and its fighters are not rebels, they are wonderful Israeli patriots who keep us alive,” Lapid said.

“How would you call a minister whose life’s mission is to divide the country, to inflame hatred and violence and racism, to corrupt the public apparatus by favoring cronies and leading us to fratricidal war?

“If this is not rebellion and betrayal, then what is?” Lapid stated.

President Isaac Herzog condemned the harsh statements made against the army’s top brass and the reservists, urging everyone to “calm down.”

“These are statements that harm the strength of the IDF. We have a strong army and an excellent chief of staff. Our regular and reserve soldiers risk their lives day and night. Even today and every day. We all owe them gratitude and affection for their activities to protect the security of the country,” Herzog said.

Gallant visited the Ramon Airbase in the center of the country to discuss the crisis with the soldiers and pilots there. He has walked a fine line, between opposing the reservist refusal movement and not dealing harshly with its members.

The defense minister has been particularly concerned by the impact the judicial reform plan has had on the army. At the airbase, he urged the soldiers and pilots not to refuse to serve.

“The wall called the air force is strong but small. Every brick that falls undermines the stability of the wall, therefore, we do not have the privilege of not reporting for missions,” Gallant said.

“The security of the country is greater than all of us,” he explained.

“Preserving cohesion is especially important in the strengthening procedures that we are required to do to protect the State of Israel. Together with the chief of staff and the commander of the air force, I am convinced that the air force will carry out every mission – in routine and in emergencies.”

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