National Unity Party head Benny Gantz, a former defense minister and former IDF chief, called on reservists not to make good on their threat to refuse to volunteer for service if more judicial reform legislation passes.
The call on Monday came together with his political ally and the man who replaced him as IDF chief, Gadi Eisenkot, after a similar statement by another former chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi.
Yes, Gantz attacked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the main culprit of the current judicial overhaul standoff, but at the same time, he strongly opposed the movement for IDF reservists to quit.
Gantz’s words were simple and direct: “I call on you all, despite the difficulty and the intense fear: you should continue in your service and your struggle for this country and continue to fight for it against our enemies. Continue to stand guard on the border, in the streets, in the cockpits, in Jenin, and on Kaplan [Street, near IDF headquarters].”
True, Gantz did attack Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the main culprit of the current standoff, but he also strongly opposed IDF reservists quitting.
This call, alongside that of Eisenkot and Ashkenazi, was noted in its force even by the Likud, which responded by praising the three retired IDF chiefs while highlighting that quitting the IDF is not an option, even in the context of the judicial overhaul.
For Netanyahu and the Likud, this could be a winning message: listen to the three IDF chiefs who do not like us, but who still understand that it is necessary to show up for duty, lest the country face physical danger from its enemies.
As the current IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Herzi Halevi has said, Hezbollah and Hamas have one goal, and that is to destroy Israel; they do not care what kind of judiciary it has.
The former IDF chiefs' statement delegitimizes reservists protest
This message could make it hard for many reservists who are undecided to cross the Rubicon and not show up for duty.
It would be one thing if the entirety of the security establishment supported quitting, other than those currently in uniform who are legally bound to follow orders, or risk ending their careers. But with a serious split even within the opposition, many reservists sitting on the fence may prefer to stay there.
All Netanyahu wants right now is to pass the first part of his judicial overhaul – the repeal of the reasonableness standard bill – without a complete disaster on all fronts: national security, diplomatic, or economic.
He can soak up the hundreds of thousands of protesters, with a small number of reservists quitting and with some intangible harm to Israel’s standing in the US and elsewhere – as long as the IDF can function, the economy stays afloat, and the US keeps funding Israeli weapons and missile defenses.
Anti-judicial overhaul NGO Brothers in Arms – made up of reservists – did not respond to the statements by the three former IDF chiefs, keeping the focus instead on Netanyahu, who is reviled by the protesters, and on Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who now fully backs Netanyahu even though he publicly opposed him in March.
The NGO’s hope is clearly to keep the focus on the allegation that Netanyahu is trying to usurp near absolute power and that Gallant knew better than to support this in March, but has now been cowed into submission after having been temporarily fired by the prime minister.
Then, Gallant and the IDF high command were convinced that the military really might fall apart. As of the end of last week, they viewed the IDF reservists’ threats as mostly public bluffs. But on Sunday night, Gallant and the IDF senior echelons were again concerned.
They seem to view the current worst-case scenario as a much smaller number of losses from the IDF than the fears in March, which means they will not press Netanyahu as hard, so he will worry less.
Gallant and the defense establishment’s concerns, along with the three former IDF chiefs, all opposition figures, going against reservists quitting, is the mix that Netanyahu may have hoped for in March, to reduce the judiciary’s powers at a cost he could accept. Back then, Gantz and Eisenkot made similar statements, but not at the same strategic moment.
With the former IDF chiefs trying to douse the flames of the threat of IDF reservists quitting, Netanyahu is more likely than ever to cross his own Rubicon, with the only remaining major obstacles being the diplomatic price regarding the US and the Abraham Accords states.