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Israeli F-15 pilots to ditch training to protest judicial reforms

Thirty-seven reservists will instead devote their time to “discourse and thinking for the sake of democracy and the unity of the people.”

Two Israeli Air Force F-15 Ra’ams practice air maneuvers. Credit: TSGT Kevin J. Gruenwald, USAF/Wikipedia
Two Israeli Air Force F-15 Ra’ams practice air maneuvers. Credit: TSGT Kevin J. Gruenwald, USAF/Wikipedia

A group of 37 Israel Air Force reserve fighter pilots announced on Sunday that they will skip a day of combat training this week in protest of the government’s proposed judicial reforms.

“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 wrote in a letter.

They represent nearly the entire 40-pilot strength of the IAF’s 69 “Hammers” Squadron, which operates F-15I Ra’am (“Thunder” in Hebrew) fighters.

The pilots work out of Hatzerim Air Base near Beersheva.

The judicial reforms have sparked heated debate in Israel since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition won the Nov 1 national election. Large protests have occurred every Saturday night in Tel Aviv and also in the area of the Knesset and the Supreme Court in Jerusalem. Last Wednesday, a nationwide “Day of Disruption” took place that featured clashes between protesters and police in Tel Aviv.

These demonstrations have featured many Israeli military reservists, who have also signed petitions saying that they would not volunteer for duty if the judicial reforms pass into law.

Last week, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi for a second time came out against the reservists’ threats. Halevi said that he was “aware of the public debate and disagreements but that he will not permit harming the ability of the IDF to actualize its fateful mission—guarding the nation’s security.”

On Friday, IAF head Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar sent a letter to reserve pilots and navigators calling on them not to abandon their responsibilities to the state should the judicial reforms become law.

“My expectation as IAF commander, like the expectation of the commanders alongside me, is that you will continue to report to your units for duty, that you will continue to serve and fulfill your commitment to your unit, to your subordinates and to your commanders, to the State of Israel, to its security and the protection of its citizens. You [must] show commitment and responsibility for the cohesion of the ranks, the soldiers and the brotherhood of fighters. There is no substitute for you all,” Bar wrote.

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