IDF does damage control after military chief says ties with US ‘not essential’

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IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said on Wednesday that while security cooperation with the US is beneficial, it is not “necessary” and that Israel knows how to act on its own.

“Israel knows how to work alone in the face of any security challenge, but it’s good to see the United States on our side,” Halevi told Army Radio in a relatively rare interview.

“We know how to act alone, we are a sovereign country that retains the right to make our own decisions and act. It is good that the US is on our side, but it is not necessary,” he said.

Halevi also pointed out that security cooperation with the US has increased further in recent years, with the countries taking part in joint planning and exercises.

But the IDF was apparently concerned that the staff commander’s remarks would be seen as petty by the US, prompting IDF Spokesman Daniel Hagari to clarify the comments later on Wednesday.

“The importance of the strategic alliance between the US and Israel is reflected in the close cooperation and coordination between CENTCOM and the IDF,” Hagari tweeted, referring to the US military’s Central Command, of which Israel is a part. “There is no substitute for true friendship and special relationships, especially in our region and at this time. Happy Holidays to our friends at CENTCOM.”

The remarks came a day after Halevi spoke on the phone with the head of CENTCOM, Michael Kurilla, and the two wished each other a happy Easter and expressed their desire to continue bilateral military cooperation for stability and maintain regional security, the IDF said. in a statement.

FASF Rafale fighter jets fly alongside IAF F-16i aircraft over Israel during a drill, December 6, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Also during Halevi’s interview on Wednesday, the IDF chief discussed Iran’s nuclear threat, saying that Israel is “ready for action in Iran today. The IDF knows how to act [in places] far away and we also know how to act [against threats] at home.”

“In the coming years, the IDF will greatly strengthen its capabilities against Iran, despite its distance. Our response will be overwhelming,” he said.

Regarding tensions with the Palestinians, Halevi noted that the first two weeks of Ramadan passed relatively calmly. “That changed last night,” he admitted, referring to clashes between police and Muslim worshipers at the Temple Mount, subsequent rocket fire from Gaza and further clashes in the West Bank.

“The IDF has been beaten back by the terrorist organizations. We make sure we respond with a meaningful, appropriate response,” said Halevi.

However, the IDF chief said that what had bothered him most recently was societal divisions and their penetration into the army, an apparent reference to protests against the government’s judicial reform effort, which included hundreds of reservists threatening to boycott report. for duty if the proposals went through.

IDF reservists and activists protest against the government’s judicial reform, outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, March 2, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As a result of the fear, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant asked the government to stop its reform effort because of the security consequences. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had decided to fire Gallant, then agreed to suspend the legislation amid massive public outcry. Netanyahu later said Gallant’s dismissal was put on hold because of the security situation.

Halevi warned backbenchers not to take such extreme measures that were not shown as a protest against the judicial legislation.

“We would like [reservists] report for duty without reservation and without conditions for any task they are asked to do,” he said. “Most of the soldiers who go into training for war are reservists, and we want them fit and ready.”

“We want the reservists [with us]. They are great and they also come to fulfill a rightful duty,” said Halevi, carefully putting out a more balanced message that avoided criticism from the protesters.

The IDF chief is said to believe that cracking down on anti-reform protesters could further escalate the phenomenon. The vast majority agreed to temporarily withdraw their threats not to serve after Netanyahu announced last week that he was halting the reform effort to allow for negotiations with the opposition aimed at compromise on judicial reform.

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