As more reservists refuse to serve, IDF said seeing drop in troops reporting for duty


Reports mounted Wednesday of reservists from multiple units across the military declaring they would not show up for duty, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government pressed ahead with its plan to reform the judiciary.

Meanwhile, a report in Haaretz said that the IDF has recognized a significant decrease in the number of ground force troops reporting for reserve duty.

In the elite 551st Paratroopers Brigade, only 57 percent of reservists reported for duty this week — a significant drop from the normal muster count of 90%, according to a report Wednesday. The unit had hoped for a 78% assembly rate among its 700 reservists amid opposition to the government’s attempt to radically curtail the power of the Supreme Court, but army officers were alarmed to learn that the scope of the protest went much further than expected.

A military source told Haaretz that the low assembly rate was an indicator of what lies ahead if the government continues with the reform.

The 551st Brigade is one of two reserve battalions in the IDF’s 98th Division.

“It’s far from anything we imagined we’d have in the end, and it’s not easy to accept,” a military source told the paper.

The IDF Central Command has so far been optimistic about maintaining high call-up rates, given that most of the reservists who threatened not to serve in the Air Force, as well as the fact that enough in the 98th Division who have a reserve. The responsibility in the West Bank rests with the settlers themselves, Haaretz said.

File: Israeli reservists, veterans and activists protest outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, against the government’s planned judicial reform, on February 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Separately on Wednesday, Channel 12 reported that the non-commissioned officers in the Special Operations Division of Military Intelligence have informed the IDF that they plan to cancel their contracts if the judicial reform is passed. The officials rejected the new proposal submitted by the government to redo the Judicial Appointments Committee, dismissing the coalition’s claim that it was a “diminishment” of its position.

The officers will pay a fine if they cancel their contracts but a representative told Channel 12 it was a price they were willing to pay.

Earlier in the day, Channel 12 reported that 700 reservists in the Nahal Brigade sent a letter to Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi urging them to do everything in their power to stop the judicial reform . “This is a violation of the social contract. This is not the way of the State of Israel,” they wrote.

At the same time, 100 recently discharged armored corps officers wrote their own letter to security chiefs warning that “some of us will stop reporting for reserve duty if the coup d’état goes ahead.”

In another letter reported by Haaretz, 100 senior reservists of the Israeli Air Force announced that they would stop reporting for non-emergency service due to the overhaul.

They joined the 180 pilots, 50 controllers and 40 drone operators who have already taken such a step.

Members of the IDF reserve organization “Brothers in Arms” hold a press conference in Tel Aviv, March 21, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

On Tuesday, the leaders of a protest group representing soldiers and reserve officers announced that they would be stepping up their actions against the government’s plans to radically limit the power of the judiciary.

The group, known as Brothers in Arms, said they would begin signing back-up declarations of refusal to serve, which would be implemented if the government went ahead with the judicial overhaul.

“We have been protesting in the streets for 11 weeks. An executive branch with unlimited power is a dictatorship. We are afraid of him. If the laws of dictatorship are enacted, a people’s army cannot exist. There is only a people’s army in a democracy,” said Lt. Col. (res.) Ron Scherf, one of the founders of Brothers in Arms.

Scherf, who served in the elite Sayeret Matkal unit, said at a press conference that if the overhaul bills are passed, “we and thousands of others will join us in stopping volunteering for reserve duty.

“The army is dying before you,” he said, addressing Gallant. “We expect you to stand up and say you will not vote for the laws. This is basically what we expect, this is the minimum.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Army Radio reported that high-ranking commanders in the Defense Forces had expressed concern that a growing trend of reserve personnel refusing to serve in protest against the government’s planned judicial reform could harm the operational capabilities of armed forces within a month.

IDF chief Aviv Kohavi (C) at the scene of a terror attack near Kiryat Arba in the West Bank, October 30, 2022 (Israel Defense Forces)

Netanyahu’s coalition, a collection of right-wing, ultra-nationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties, has barreled ahead with legislation aimed at weakening the court’s ability to serve as a check on parliament, as well as giving control to the government appointed judges. Mass weekly protests have been taking place for more than two months against the proposed legislation, with growing protests from prominent public figures including the president, jurors, business leaders and many another.

Increasingly, reservists – who are an integral part of the army’s normal activities, including in the highest units – have warned that they will not be able to serve in a democratic Israel, which they accuse the country of which will come under the government’s plan.

Military brass have insisted that the armed services must stay out of any political fight, but numerous reports have shown that the phenomenon is only growing.

In addition, soldiers have expressed concern that a lack of international confidence in the independence of Israeli judges could expose them to prosecution in international tribunals for actions they were ordered to take during service.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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