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Opinion

The IDF must be kept out of the political debate

The army’s job is to win wars, everything else is a dangerous distraction.

An Israel Defense Forces reservist from the Brothers in Arms protest group attends a demonstration against judicial reform in Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, March 16, 2023. Photo by Flash90.
An Israel Defense Forces reservist from the Brothers in Arms protest group attends a demonstration against judicial reform in Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, March 16, 2023. Photo by Flash90.
Nave Dromi
Nave Dromi
Nave Dromi is the director of the Middle East Forum in Israel.

The storming of the U.S. Capitol in 2021, the mass demonstrations against electoral reforms in Mexico and the current riots in France over pension reform are just a few of the many recent global convulsions involving masses of disgruntled people.

The demonstrations against judicial reform in Israel are different, however, in that they have major implications for our national security.

Since the return of the Jewish people to their ancestral and indigenous homeland, the overwhelming majority of Jews believed that, while they often disagreed, sometimes vehemently, the defense of the nation took priority.

In the lead up to the War of Independence, most of the Zionist paramilitary organizations understood the need to stand united under the command of the Haganah and then the IDF. After the sinking of the Altalena, the Irgun decided not to respond. Even during the painful disengagement from Gaza, the greater good of national security took precedence.

Now, however, the IDF has been placed on the firing line and used as a tool of protest. This is something we can ill afford.

Unfortunately, the ideological politicization of the IDF has been a long time coming.

For many years, our security and political leaders have spoken about the IDF as a social project, a “great leveler” of all parts of Israeli society and an incubator for our hi-tech industry.

But the IDF is increasingly influenced by many differing ideological agendas. Some of these influences are certainly to be welcomed, but they cannot and should not replace the overwhelming aim of any defense force: to defeat its enemies.

Winning wars and conflicts should be the primary aim of the IDF, because unlike the U.S., Mexico, France and most other nations on Earth, the Jewish state is constantly under threat. The enemies who seek our defeat and destruction do not rest, let alone care about our internal politics or ideological differences.

It is also vital to point out that our enemies are taking stock of our current upheavals and see weaknesses they can exploit.

“For the first time since the creation of [Israel], we hear speeches from the entity’s president and former prime ministers … along with former defense ministers and generals who talk about civil war and bloodshed,” Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah recently said during a speech. “God willing, [Israel] will not reach its 80th birthday.”

It was not long afterwards that an infiltrator from Lebanon was able to carry out a terrorist attack in northern Israel.

This is precisely why it is in everyone’s interest for the IDF to remain firmly outside any political or ideological debate.

Soldiers in uniform should not abuse their position to take a particular ideological stance. Reservists should not use their annual service as leverage in service of a political agenda.

If they do, then we will end up with half an army, its ideological makeup dependent on who is in political power at any given time.

Of course, this is an extreme scenario, but there are ominous signs that we could be heading in such a direction.

If even a fraction of soldiers or reservists make their service dependent on whether they are happy with government policy or not, it could severely weaken Israel militarily.

We need to create a new social contract among all citizens of Israel that ensures there will be no more refusal to serve, or even the threat of refusal to serve, on ideological grounds. That there will be no more mass petitions calling on people to boycott their annual military service. That there will be no more calls for the IDF to solve political problems.

The IDF must remain above the debate, however vehement it may be.

Soldiers have one job: To achieve the goals set by those above them. Military leaders and strategists have one job: To win wars and ensure safety and security for all Israelis.

Everything the IDF does should be in service of these goals. Anything else is an unnecessary and potentially dangerous distraction.

Even when tempers are frayed, and anger and resentment come from every direction, we need to commit to creating a broad consensus that, above all, the IDF must be kept out of the political debate.

Nave Dromi is the director of the Middle East Forum’s Israel Office and author of the new book Rifle Full of Roses, which examines how radical agendas have influenced the IDF in recent decades.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.

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