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Gantz urges IDF reservists to show up ‘no matter what,’ rejecting desertion threats

  • March 05, 2023

National Unity party chief Benny Gantz, a former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, called Sunday on IDF reservist soldiers to continue to show up for duty even amid a wave of protest against the government’s plans to overhaul the judiciary.

“I call on reservists and those in active service — continue to serve, to show up no matter what,” Gantz said at a faction meeting for his party in the Knesset. “To protect this country with protests and to protect it with [military] forays… despite the pain.”

Gantz’s call came the same day as nearly all reservist members of an Israeli Air Force fighter jet squadron said they would not show up to one of their planned training sessions later this week, in protest of the government’s plan to radically curtail the judiciary. They were the latest, and most high-profile, group of reservists to announce such a move.

Gantz, an opposition leader who has urged mass protest, called on reservists to “continue to fight for this country in battle and to fight for it in protest. We will win this struggle sooner or later. The State of Israel and its values are stronger than any one government.”

His comments echoed remarks by Opposition Leader Yair Lapid on Saturday night.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, one of the main focuses of the protests, also responded to the news with a call to show up.

“When we are called to the reserves we always go. We are one nation,” he tweeted along with a picture of himself from his time as a reservist.

Earlier Sunday, 37 out of the 40 reservists in the IAF’s 69th Squadron said they were boycotting the Wednesday exercises. Their announcement was first published by the Haaretz daily.

The squadron — known as the Hammers — operates the F-15I fighter jets out of the Hatzerim Airbase in southern Israel.

In 2007, the squadron carried out a strike on Syria’s nuclear reactor, in a mission known to much of the world as Operation Orchard, and in the IDF as Outside the Box. It has also been involved in carrying out hundreds of strikes against Iranian entrenchment in Syria over the past decade, receiving a citation from the military chief in 2018 over the operations.

The reservists notified IAF chief Tomer Bar and the commander of the squadron of their intention to not show up for training this week, but said they would report for duty if required for operational missions.

Reservist pilots train frequently and missing multiple sessions could impact competency.

“On Wednesday, March 8, we will devote our time to discourse and thinking for the sake of democracy and the unity of the people, and therefore we will not report to reserve duty on this day, with the exception of operational activity. During the rest of the week, we will report [for duty] as planned,” the reservists said in the letter, quoted by Channel 12 news.

On Friday, dozens of senior pilots held an unprecedented meeting with IAF chief Bar in which they reportedly expressed major concerns about their continued service in the reserves.

According to Channel 12, the pilots, reservists who continue to do active service, expressed fear that the new hardline government’s conduct could expose them to prosecution by global bodies such as the International Criminal Court.

Israel has long argued against such probes, pointing to the strength and independence of its own judiciary, which is responsible for investigating incidents of wrongdoing by Israeli forces. But critics of the government’s legal overhaul warn that efforts to restrict the High Court of Justice’s power will rob the country of legitimacy in the international arena.

Some 50 pilots participated in the Friday meeting, which followed a growing number of reservists from numerous units who have warned they will not serve if the coalition proceeds with its plans to shackle the justice system, which opponents say will leave Israel a weakened democracy.

Later on Friday, Bar penned a letter to all IAF reserve members that was leaked to the media in which he wrote that he expects them to continue to report for duty. He clarified that the IDF and the IAF would operate “according to the moral standards and according to the values and spirit of the IDF — without any change.”

“My friends, you are the volunteers for long-term active reserve service. You’re committed, dedicated and willing to sacrifice due to the realization of the heavy task on your shoulders. Our shared responsibility is to maintain the ability of the Air Force, to meet its tasks and to maintain its cohesion and competence,” Bar wrote.

“I am aware of and attentive to the difficulties and challenges we all face these days,” he added, without going into specifics.

In a statement on Friday, the IDF said that it was “conducting an ongoing situational assessment and command dialogue in view of the recent events.”

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