Netanyahu defends Israeli military chiefs after attacks by cabinet members

Army and air force chiefs criticised over protests by reservists against government's judicial reforms

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant issued a joint response to criticism of military chiefs over protests by reservists against the government's judicial reforms. EPA
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Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed support for the military after members of his far-right government and his son criticised senior officers over protests by reservists.

Thousands of military reservists have vowed not to turn up for duty in protest against the government's plan to overhaul the judiciary. The relatively small army relies on reservists to maintain its operational readiness in a historically hostile region.

A statement issued by Mr Netanyahu's office on Tuesday said the Prime Minister and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant "reject any attack on senior security establishment officials and fully back the commanders and soldiers" of the Israeli military.

Growing opposition within the Israeli military to government plans to curb the Supreme Court's powers poses one of the most serious threats to the legislation, which has spurred months of street protests and criticism from former Israeli officials, business leaders and the US, Israel's main ally.

Mr Netanyahu's allies have pushed back against the criticism. On Tuesday, David Amsalem, a minister in Netanyahu's government and a member of his right-wing Likud party, attacked chief of staff Herzi Halevi and air force chief Tomer Bar on Tuesday over the reservist protests.

Gen Halevi and other army officials have warned that turmoil in the military could affect Israel’s preparedness.

Mr Amsalem blamed Gen Halevi and Maj Gen Bar for what he called a "mutiny" in the armed forces and asked that they be punished for undermining Israel's security.

“In any normal army, you treat rebels like rebels should be treated,” he told Israel’s Army Radio.

"In 15, 20, 30 years, this'll be studied in history books, which will note who the chief of staff was and who the air force chief was."

Mr Netanyahu's son Yair called Gen Halevi “the most failing and destructive chief of staff in the history of the IDF and the State of Israel." The social post he shared was originally written by a far-right activist on X, formerly known as Twitter, and was later deleted.

Mr Gallant responded with a post on X in which he said: "If you cannot contain yourselves, then attack me, the defence minister, I am in charge of the chief of staff and air force commander."

He published photos of himself with Maj Gen Bar at the Ramon airbase and a video in which he told pilots that they had his full backing.

Mr Netanyahu and his allies say the judicial reforms limit the authority of judges and give elected officials more powers over decision-making. Critics say the move would endanger Israel’s democratic ideals and upend the country’s system of checks and balances by concentrating too much power in the hands of politicians.

The deepening social divisions over the plan have plunged Israel into its gravest domestic crisis.

Updated: August 16, 2023, 5:43 AM