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IDF chief takes a firmer line on no-show reservists

However, without some form of stabilization of Israel's political situation, the question is whether it will be enough.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi addresses the Herzliya Conference, May 23, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi addresses the Herzliya Conference, May 23, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin is an Israel-based military affairs correspondent and analyst. He is the in-house analyst at the Miryam Institute; a research associate at the Alma Research and Education Center; and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. He is a frequent guest commentator on international television news networks, including Sky News and i24 News. Lappin is the author of Virtual Caliphate: Exposing the Islamist State on the Internet. Follow him at: www.patreon.com/yaakovlappin.

During this period of turmoil and domestic strife in Israel, it might be refreshing to start with the good news. So far, there are very few cases of Israel Defense Force reservists actually not showing up for active duty, despite the steady flow of letters and statements by a growing number warning that they will refuse to do so if the coalition’s “reasonableness” bill becomes law.

However, like Checkhov’s gun, the letters already exist, and no one is quite sure what will happen in the third act.

The few reservists who have failed to report for duty have faced disciplinary steps by their commanders.

Meanwhile, unlike the first round of judicial reform-fueled domestic strife in March, this time around, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi has adopted a public and firm line against the phenomenon.

On Wednesday, during a visit to Tel Nof Air Base, Halevi said, “The IDF is currently engaged in preserving its capabilities and unity, even when there is tension between the two. The IDF faces operational challenges on a daily basis. The current state of security obliges us to operate every single day, in every arena, as well as prepare the IDF for the next war.”

He added, “These security challenges set an operational reality that requires the cohesion of active duty forces and reservists, who constitute an inseparable part of the IDF. The IDF was founded on the basis of its reserve forces. They are Israel’s best, and we cherish them. Without them, the model of the ‘people’s army’ would not have held over the past 75 years. The contract between us acts as the State of Israel’s insurance. The calls for not showing up to reserve service harm the IDF.”

The remarks echoed his statement the day before to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.  

“The current security challenges require us to be highly prepared. The readiness of the IDF is a combination of its capabilities and unity, even when there is tension between them. It is therefore our duty to maintain these two in the best way possible,” he said.

He then issued a clear-cut condemnation of those urging reservists not to show up, saying, “Anyone who calls for not reporting for duty during these days harms the IDF and the security of the State of Israel.”

This represents far firmer messaging from Halevi than was heard back in March. The change reflects a real concern; technically, pilots in the reserves cannot be forced to fly, although they can be forced to serve in other capacities if they refuse to fly.

Reserve pilots volunteer an enormous number of hours a month, reporting for duty often once a week to once every two weeks, to maintain their readiness, while juggling their private-sector roles.

So far, the vast majority of IAF reservists are continuing to fly, but if a certain number of the 160 reservists who serve in the IAF’s operational headquarters, including colonels and brigadier generals, refuse to report for duty, the IDF will be deprived of their irreplaceable experience, a prospect the military takes very seriously.

As a result, Halevi is doubling down and signaling a new posture—there will be no sympathy for calls to harm the IAF’s capabilities, and while reservists can legitimately protest as private individuals, they must not drag the IDF into political fights.

The situation among the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate and infantry reservist officers so far appears to be solid, with miniscule numbers of reservists not reporting for duty.  

Nevertheless, the situation is unprecedented, and Halevi has no one to truly consult regarding how to handle this explosive problem as all of his predecessors are now in politics.

Calls during the 2005 Gaza disengagement for reservists to refuse to serve were on a very small scale relative to the calls being heard today.

Ultimately, the fact that Halevi and the IAF Commander Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar are being forced to deal with this crisis instead of, for example, poring over operational plans to deal with Iran, is already having a detrimental effect on Israeli security.

Going into the weekend, Israel’s military establishment will be hoping Halevi’s statement will help stem the flow. But without some form of stabilization of the political situation, that may not be sufficient to deal with the problem.

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