| 2 December 2023, Saturday |

Decision to exempt ultra-Orthodox from military service threatens Netanyahu’s coalition

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to implement the terms stipulated by his extremist allies relating to expanding the Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories and exempting ultra-Orthodox Jews from military service.


Following the developments, protest leaders against the government issued statements calling for the expansion of demonstrations, and officers and reservists threatened to abstain from military service.


Informed political sources said that assessments within the Israeli army showed that passing those provisions would lead to an immediate reaction from the Palestinians, who will respond with a significant escalation rejecting settlements, and reservists who threatened to leave the military service.


Observers are concerned that about half of the pilots and navigators in the air force wouldn’t report for regular service.


Military editor of the Haaretz newspaper Amos Harel warned that it would quickly make the forces incapable of taking part in a war if one were to erupt, considerably eroding the force’s operational capacity.


He indicated that such a phenomenon might also spread to career army personnel.


“The commanders of critical units say that many of their career people have already said they won’t be extending their service and would even intend to quit immediately if the legislation is passed. One can assume there would be similar developments in other branches of the security establishment.”


Harel noted that the assessment in Israel is that a long and turbulent political summer awaits us. This feeling is accompanied by the lingering possibility of a broader military confrontation following the security escalation seen in recent months.


Despite suspending the judicial reform legislation announced by Netanyahu, many forces in the government are still calling for its continuation immediately after the holidays.


Harel warned that the coalition partners have numerous demands, some related to the judicial overhaul legislation, but implementing them is liable to put Netanyahu on a collision course with the outside world.


“All of the bad consequences of the legislation that the protesters warn against remain in place and may even intensify. The Biden administration isn’t concealing its fierce opposition to the change in Israel’s democratic form of government,” he said.


Israeli media discussed army and intelligence leaks about a possible war, saying the leaks were deliberate.


He noted that former Defense Minister Benny Gantz is under pressure to join the government to prevent it from failing.


Harel said that “if there were a major military confrontation, it’s difficult to know whether the two former Israeli chiefs of staff, Gantz and his party colleague Gadi Eisenkot, would constrain themselves from such a call to action.”


“It’s hard to replace military DNA that has been cultivated for more than 30 years with more calculated and sober political DNA. When the cannons roar, the generals join government coalitions.”


Netanyahu had agreed to grant a complete exemption from military service to the ultra-religious group and limit the period for reporting their decision to 23 instead of 26, meaning they could go out for work after it.


Faced with the threat of a revolution within the army, Netanyahu proposed doubling the amount of “pocket money” given to the soldiers and converting it into salaries of 6,000 shekels ($1,666) per month, which is higher than the minimum wage.


The protest leaders considered this measure a bribe to the soldiers so that they would be silent about the exemption for the ultra-orthodox, noting that soldiers serving in the army would not accept the money for their sacrifices.

  • Asharq Al-Awsat