"There is already damage to the competence of the Air Force, unequivocally, even though they are trying to minimize it." This is according to more than 160 members of the operational headquarters in the Israeli Air Force reserve, who decided to stop volunteering their service as a protest against the continued movement forward of judicial overhaul legislation.
The announcement caused a stir in the Air Force and, as the stream of messages continued from reservists in other military forces threatening to terminate their voluntary service, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant earlier on Wednesday announced that he and Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi met this week with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to update him on the country's military readiness.
"The minister of defense and the chief of staff presented to the prime minister a picture of the security situation and the competence of the IDF," the Defense Ministry said in a statement.
They told him that, based on the fact that so far the number of officers and pilots who have officially notified the military that they will no longer volunteer for service is only about 100, as of now there is no impairment of the army's competence for war.
The tripartite meeting was held on Monday without advisers present. Currently, there is no prospect of another meeting between the prime minister, the minister of defense and the chief of staff on the issue, but updates are constantly being sent to the offices of Netanyahu and Gallant. Currently it seems that Gallant does not intend to repeat his decision in March to publicly call for the judicial overhaul legislation to be stopped, and prefers to continue to place public pressure, together with Halevi, on the reservists, telling them that they must continue to report for their volunteer service.
The service of staff members, including officers with the rank of lieutenant colonel, is at the heart of the Air Force. They are saying: "We have been debating about this for several months, we have stopped sleeping quietly since the attempted dismissal of Gallant, and the straw that broke the camel's back is the reasonableness legislation and the non-convening of the committee for selecting judges."
In contrast to the active reserve pilots who are avoiding talking to the media but are in continuous contact with Air Force Commander Tomer Bar, most of whom believe that he will manage the crisis, the staff members are mostly disappointed with Bar. "The conversation with the Air Force commander was one of the hardest conversations we have had in our lives, and the choice not to volunteer is the most difficult decision we have made," the Air Force staffers say.
Bar "chose to represent the political, 'state' echelon, and not us and our hardships. We are experiencing an attack from politicians and senior military officials, and this only strengthens the decision to suspend volunteering," according to them. The decision not to reveal their names in the media is, they say, due to "the reluctance to turn the already difficult decision into a yellow journalism thing."
The veterans of the special operations units also say that there is an attempt to minimize the extent of the damage to the IDF's competence. "The army and the government are trying to count trees and ignore the forest. It's probably convenient for all parties, except for the state," they say, adding that "reducing the matter to a head count – that is, who is reporting or not reporting for duty this week or next week – is marginal and completely unimportant."
"The special operations system, which is one of the most critical and sensitive of the security systems, is a system built on tradition, on family, on knowledge and experience accumulated over many years. All of these have seriously cracked in recent months, and there is no doubt that if the coup continues – it is only a matter of time before this is manifested in the departure of people even from active-duty permanent forces," they said.
"The chief of staff and the head of the IDF know the truth – that without democracy, the special operations system will become like (Russian President Vladimir) Putin's – submissive and obedient, made up of weak personnel and built on lies. This is a price that the State of Israel cannot afford," according to the special operations reservists.
Tuesday night's dramatic announcement by the officers of the Air Force headquarters caused a stir there, and Bar sent an internal and unusual message to his senior commanders – calling on them to order the reservists to continue to report for service. A senior reserve officer in the Air Force warned last night that: "This is a severe blow to the soldiers' control capabilities, both in the Air Force's command center and also to the representatives of the force in the military command center, as these war rooms rely heavily on reservists."
The senior officer in the reserves emphasized that "not all reserve personnel are involved in this matter, as most senior commanders, who serve as control center commanders, have yet to announce their resignation."
"Nevertheless, for those who have announced their resignation, there is no replacement. Their expertise, both in their original military occupation – combat pilots, helicopter pilots, transport pilots, intelligence operatives and control center operators – as well as in their experience in the control centers, cannot be replaced. Young pilots cannot take their place. Their absence from reserve duty may significantly reduce the number of operations the IAF can conduct," he also said.
At the same time as the upheaval in the Air Force, reservists in a number of other units are now threatening to escalate their protest against the judicial overhaul. On Wednesday morning, hundreds of reservists from ground forces units, most of them from infantry brigades alongside special infantry units, announced that they intend to sign together a document suspending their reserve service
They emphasize that they will stop their service immediately, and not only after the final approval of the cancellation of the reasonableness cause. The mass signing - in a step that further escalates the reservists' protest - will be held according to an announcement published Wednesday morning by the organizers of the event at 6 p.m. in the plaza of the Tel Aviv Museum, in front of the Kyria base defense headquarters. "We have reached the red line. We have nowhere else to retreat. Our decision is firm: we will not serve a dictatorship," they said.