Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on Monday that while the IDF remains combat-ready, he sees a substantial threat to the unity of the forces due to protests against the government's judicial legislation.
"In the long-term, current events could have an impact," Gallant said in a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee hearing. "There is a sense that the unity of purpose among troops is eroding," he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to meet with IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi to discuss the repercussions of his legislative push on the military before the Knesset voted last week to limit the ability of the Supreme Court to review government decisions and members of his coalition refused to hear senior military commanders who came to the Knesset and were reportedly warning that passing the bill could impact military preparedness.
In the two-hour-long discussion on Monday, lawmakers argued over the announcement of volunteers in the IDF reserves, including Air Force pilots, members of intelligence units, cybersecurity units and elite forces, that they would no longer serve what they dub a "non-democratic regime." Coalition members said the IDF should brand the protesting volunteers as "deserters," a term used by Netanyahu in his public statements.
The committee was briefed by the military's operations chief and high-ranking intelligence officers who said there was a chance that military readiness would be impacted within weeks if the current situation remained unchanged.
Mass protests have been taking place over the past 30 weeks after the government announced its plans to overhaul the judiciary and pass laws that would, according to some, change the balance of power between the judicial branch and the executive and legislative branches, granting unchecked power to the government and its coalition in the Knesset.
Military officials said they were concerned that the unity among the troops, which has always been taken for granted, will be eroded.
A video clip that was widely shared on social media, including by ministers in Netanyahu's government, has rapidly disseminated among servicemembers. The clip portrays Air Force pilots abandoning ground troops under fire, allegedly because they did not oppose the judicial legislation. Recently, this clip was distributed to recruits of the Golani brigade and spread quickly among them to the dismay of their commanders.
The well-produced video was condemned by the IDF spokesperson after National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar both shared it on their own social media platforms. Zohar, a member of Netanyahu's Likud Party later removed it but Ben-Gvir had not.
Some on the right, also referred to an incident on Israel's border with Egypt, when air support was delayed amid an attack from an Egyptian border guard, killing three members of the IDF. The air support would not have altered the situation on the ground, an investigation concluded. But the narrative promoted has already caused damage that would take a long time to repair, military officials said.
"Operational readiness is not just about the number of tanks and planes that are prepared for action. There are elements that are difficult to measure which impact unity," the head of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies and former IDF intelligence chief Tamir Hayman said. "There are rifts inside military units today and that is a real problem that was caused by the video clip that ministers shared."