Israeli reservists warn Air Force chief: Situation is becoming critical

Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar tells reservists serving in critical roles in a heated discussion, that refusing to volunteer would cripple operational readiness; pilots who fly in military missions say they are concerned for the preservation of the military moral code

Yossi Yehoshua|
In a tense discussion on Sunday held at the IDF Air Force's headquarters, 50 reserve volunteers, among them senior officers, faced Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar and told him the force's operational capabilities were now in jeopardy.
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"The threat is real. People won't turn up for reserve duty. You must alert the prime minister," one said. Another officer said that he expects everyone to be more assertive with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and make him understand the gravity of the situation. "We're being torn apart, people are losing trust," he said.
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IDF Air Force pilots, Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar
IDF Air Force pilots, Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar
IDF Air Force pilots, Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar
(Photo: AFP, IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
These senior officers, reserve personnel in the Air Force's operational headquarters, are the ones who oversee a significant part of the force's operations and some have even served as air force base commanders in the past. They are tasked with planning attacks during times of war and fly regularly either as combat pilots or as flight school instructors, training the next generations of pilots and are an integral part of the force's operational capabilities.
The reservists warned against the growing wave of volunteers who will not show up for service until the government backs down its legislative push for a judicial overhaul. They avoided using the word "refusal" as much as possible and declared they were opposed to it but said there were many pilots who had said in private conversations that they would end their reserve service entirely should the bill to cancel the reasonableness standard be passed.
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מפקד חיל האוויר אלוף תומר בר וראש להק מבצעי אוויר תת אלוף עומר טישלר מפקדים על הסיכול ברצועת עזה מבור חיל האוויר
מפקד חיל האוויר אלוף תומר בר וראש להק מבצעי אוויר תת אלוף עומר טישלר מפקדים על הסיכול ברצועת עזה מבור חיל האוויר
Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar
(Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
The officers were divided over their future course of action: some said they would leave the force completely if the law passed. Others admitted to being undecided. A smaller group told Maj. Gen. Bar, they would remain in the air force even after the proposed law is passed.
"This is a critical week for you," Maj. Gen. Bar told the assembly. "I ask you to continue volunteering for service. You are important to the force. We have a responsibility for Israel's security." Bar acknowledged that he is aware of the air force's unity being under threat and asked the senior officers for their help in preventing the fractures from becoming deeper still.
One of the former base commanders touched on a sensitive point for the pilots: the force's ethical code. He raised his concern that pilots may be ordered to carry out illegal missions while lacking the protection of the Supreme Court.
"Every mission is carried out according to the values of the IDF and the Air Force," Bar said in response. "I haven't encountered any mission that did not meet those standards." When asked if he was warning officials about the developing crisis in the air force, Bar said, "I reflect an authentic picture to the IDF chief of staff and the defense minister." He then said in conclusion that he has chosen to continue to defend Israel. "I will be happy if you'd join me. Let's safeguard the Air Force."
As of Wednesday more reservists in the air force were planning to announce the suspension of their volunteering for service. In conversations with many of them, they said they were still undecided. The reservists were aware of the sensitive security situation, especially regarding the threat on Israel's northern border.
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מכתב הפסקה מיידית של התנדבות למילואים
מכתב הפסקה מיידית של התנדבות למילואים
The letter signed by 161 volunteer reservists in the air force who announce they would no longer serve due to the coalition's legislation
"Squadron commanders said that they were trying to man all necessary positions but it's not easy for them. A senior officer in the Air Force said. "commanders end up facing a unit of reservists – some of whom were their former superior officers, and don't know how to deal with the situation. No one prepared them for it.
"They don't sleep at night," a former air base commander said. "They worry about their units' readiness and cohesion, rather than worrying about their mission and routine functions. That's something they don't know how to handle."
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant was expected to take a much more aggressive stance. "We can't use a refusal to volunteer as a means to impose a political position," he said. According to him, the protests have become organized and political, and he'll act to prevent refusals from spreading in the military.
According to another senior air force commander, the reservists' threats are an ineffective way to pressure the government, which could lead to any random group threatening to do the same over any matter. "They want to do something undemocratic, and I ask them to wait before crossing the Rubicon."
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שר הביטחון יואב גלנט, הרטמכ"ל הרצי הלוי וראש הממשלה בנימין נתניהו הערכת מצב לאחר הפיגוע בעלי
שר הביטחון יואב גלנט, הרטמכ"ל הרצי הלוי וראש הממשלה בנימין נתניהו הערכת מצב לאחר הפיגוע בעלי
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant with IDF chief Herzi Halevi
(Photo: Defense Ministry)
Yet, there's also a reason for optimism. despite the worrying situation in the air force. Many of the reservists are cognisant of their importance to Israel's defense, and some say that should the need arise they would not refuse to answer the call to serve.
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