Resistance and mass resignation by Israeli air force pilots, naval officers, cyber warriors and members of other military units in response to the government’s judicial reforms have sparked heated debates across Israel. Given the valid concerns over risks to national security, it is important to reexamine whether such drastic steps are justified.
To understand the legitimate underpinnings of the reservists’ resistance, lessons can be drawn from the Yom Kippur War. The surprise attack in 1973 highlights the consequences of failing to recognize threats before they inflict significant damage. Now, in 2023, fifty years after that fateful year, Israel faces dangerously incalculable risks.
Paradoxically, it is not an external threat but Israel’s elected government that menaces the nation today.
Israel’s ruling coalition, the most extremist in its history, won the 2022 election by a mere 0.6% margin of the vote. Despite this slim majority, it is actively pursuing radical legislation aimed at subjugating the judiciary. Such actions dismantle essential checks and balances, leading to the effective demise of Israel’s democracy.
Netanyahu dismisses such concerns as fantasies. Much like the behavior of the Arab leadership as it prepared for conflict in 1973, Netanyahu and his allies obscure their strategic maneuvering, which in this case, reinvents Israel as a theocratically-inclined authoritarian state led by Netanyahu himself.
The difficulty in imagining that such an eventuality could occur in Israel can make it challenging to accept the depth of resistance essential to counter it. However, as the saying goes, “follow the money!” Focus shouldn’t be on whether Netanyahu would act in such a wanton and dissolute manner, but rather on whether coveting such authority is compatible with a democratic form of government. It should be clear that such power does not align with democratic principles, and therefore that it is criminal to seek it.
Today’s mass demonstrations hold the government wholly accountable for the perilous future it is spinning for Israel. Protestors refuse to allow it to conceal within a trojan horse of deceptively termed “judicial reforms,” the real and dangerous nature of its policies. The coalition responds with predictable demagoguery, confident that it can weather the storm and ultimately outlast the public outcry.
It is the reservists who inject a sense of urgency and emergency into the equation. Saner members of the coalition, despite their reflexive inclination to blame the reservists, cannot ignore the hazardous security implications of their policies. This is the primary source of strife and recrimination within the government.
A few weeks ago, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, addressing his ministerial colleagues, deftly articulated the two cornerstones of Israel’s security – the IDF and the alliance with America- in one succinct statement: “The air force is built on two components: American planes and Israeli pilots. If you have an alternative for one of them, let me know.” The coalition is well aware that within its ranks there is enough unease around these issues that the risk that it causes the government to fall is not zero.
Next month, on Yom Kippur, Israel will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the 1973 war. Just three decades after rising from the ashes of the Holocaust, its soldiers were called upon to defend the young nation. Today, fifty years after that war, we are witnessing the early phases of a disconcerting assault upon the nation and its foundational ideals. The decision by subsequent generations of soldiers from that very same army to cease volunteering greatly complicates matters for Netanyahu, Levin, Rothman, Smotrich, Ben Gvir, and their covert assault upon Israel’s liberal, democratic fabric.
As of now, however, it remains uncertain who shall emerge victorious in this promethean struggle.
The men and women of the IDF who will not serve this rogue coalition grasp the gravity of the situation. They are also acutely aware that should a security lapse occur, they will be unjustly scapegoated by an ethically unrestrained leadership. They merit and require the goodwill and unfaltering support of all well-intentioned individuals.
One day, perhaps not long from now, we may look back at this time as an unprecedented moment: For the first time in history a powerful army threatens to lay down its arms in resolute defence of democracy, freedom, and human dignity.