This time there will be no public dire warnings from IDF chief-of-staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi or Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to halt the judicial overhaul push to give more time for dialogue.
On March 23, Gallant publicly, and Levi behind the scenes, took a potentially decisive role in compelling Netanyahu to shelve his original broader reform and to engage in months of talks with the opposition.
They may still advocate delay and dialogue as a preferred option, but Gallant has loudly shifted to supporting the more narrow judicial overhaul that the government is currently proposing.
Both Halevi and Gallant have turned their verbal aim on IDF reservists threatening to refuse to serve. They now sound very similar to Netanyahu, describing a threat to refuse to serve as unacceptable and undermining the IDF.
Although Halevi is careful to say he takes no side on the policy issues under debate and simply wants to keep the IDF out of politics – in the current state of things, that position is substantially helpful to Netanyahu’s political goals.
Broad spectrum of reservists threatening to quit
There are still large numbers of IDF reservists threatening to quit, from the air force and the special forces, to IDF intelligence and the Shin Bet, to military medical personnel.
But a report by Kan on Sunday publicly confirmed what the Jerusalem Post had already been told: Halevi is calling the reservists’ bluff.
According to Halevi, most of the reservists will not actually refuse to show up for duty in a time period when the IDF just fought major battles with Gaza and Jenin, and when Iran and Hezbollah pose a greater threat than ever.
He and most top defense officials believe that many IDF reservists will lend their names to public letters, but that when it comes down to showing up or leaving the IDF in the lurch in a national security crisis, all of the key reservists will show up.
Their strategy for handling the reservist threats then has shifted to completely ignoring the letters and mostly ignoring the threats to quit.
According to most current serving top IDF officials, those reservists who are actually ready to quit are a tiny minority and usually have additional reasons they would be ready to quit - since if not they would not dream of risking expulsion from reserve duty.
Even after all of that, Halevi and the IDF are still going under the radar in handling any expulsions.
They learned from the public suspension by IDF Air Force Chief Tomer Bar of IDF (res.) Col. Gilad Peled that public punishments only blow up in the army’s face and turn the punished person into a martyr.
Incidentally, after Peled seemed to walk back any threat of refusing to serve and the IDF dropped his suspension, he has not been heard of since in terms of any anti-judicial overhaul activism.
It was leaked to the press in late June that two IDF reservists who have publicly refused to serve because of the judicial overhaul were about to be expelled (probably the leak came from the reservists.)
The Jerusalem Post has repeatedly questioned the IDF about what happened to the two reservists and has been greeted with deafening silence.
The message seems to be that Halevi wants to take an uncompromising public tone to get most IDF reservists to fall in line, but that he does not expect to have to punish many people. Those he will punish, he would rather do without too much fanfare.
Why did Halevi and Gallant shift toward Netanyahu on this issue?
Gallant probably actually agreed all along with significant aspects of Netanyahu’s policy ideas, but just believed he was doing too much too fast and with too little compromise.
As far as he is concerned, the fact that Netanyahu now is only going for the “smallest” of his original four main goals – the reasonability clause – as opposed to radically altering the membership and powers of the High Court of Justice and of the Attorney-General – is probably more than enough compromise.
With Halevi, the picture is grayer and he may not personally support Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul as Gallant does.
But now he is not only less worried that his IDF will come apart by mass reservist resignations, he is also less worried about the two main political issues the government could have imposed on the IDF.
Halevi and many in the IDF were worried that Finance Minister Betzalel Smotrich would take away IDF powers in the West Bank and that National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir would take away border police powers.
After seeing the government function for seven months, Halevi now believes that Netanyahu will keep Smotrich and Ben Gvir in check when it comes to big-picture war and peace IDF issues.
Likewise, Halevi was concerned about the IDF’s budget for surviving in the future in terms of attractive salary and pension options. These options serve to mitigate the IDF’s losses of high-quality officers to the hi-tech sector and other parts of the private sector.
The government’s generous boost to the IDF in those key areas was a big personal win for Halevi and means he is willing to give more rope to Netanyahu in other areas.