Protesting Israeli air force reservists agree to dialogue

Planned overhaul to judicial system has led to threat to boycott training flights

A group of Israeli air force reservists who are protesting against the government’s proposed judicial reforms by refusing to take part in a training sortie said on Tuesday they would still turn up at base for talks with their commanders.

Wednesday’s planned meeting at Hatzerim base suggested all sides of the corps were dialling down a demonstration that has shaken a country used to the military staying clear of politics.

Thirty-seven reserve F-15 pilots and navigators from the 69th Squadron circulated a letter on Sunday saying they would not take part in some training flights to “devote our time to dialogue and reflection for the sake of democracy and national unity”.

A person involved in the protest said seven members of the group were to have taken part in a training sortie on Wednesday. That would go ahead with regular crews replacing the seven, who would spend their time at the base “in dialogue with commanders,” the person told Reuters on condition of anonymity.


Asked about those talks, a military spokesperson said only: “Indeed, this situation is being taken care of internally.”

Israeli air force reservists are required to fly as often as once a week to maintain operational readiness. They sometimes carry out combat missions. Yet they are designated as volunteers, with no legal obligation to attend training.

Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who calls his push to curb supreme court powers a return to balance between branches of government, says threats by critics to encourage or take part in boycotts of military duties imperil Israel’s existence.

The opposition sees in the proposed reforms a menace to judicial independence, and some protest leaders – among them retired generals – argue that a non-democratic turn in government would warrant mass-disobedience within the ranks.

Israel’s armed forces are made up mostly of conscripts, and have long served a secondary role as a melting pot for an otherwise ethnically and religiously disparate society.

On Sunday, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant sounded the alarm over protests by reservists in the air force and other units, saying in a statement: “The situation demands dialogue, fast.”

That was widely interpreted as a call on Mr Netanyahu to seek compromise with political opponents – as well as for engagement between commanders and subordinates inside the military. – Reuters