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Netanyahu 'dismantling' Israeli military, officials warn during US visit

Former Israeli officials issued a warning to senators on the foreign relations committee as Netanyahu starts his US tour
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in his office in Jerusalem, on 25 June 2023 (AFP)

A group of former Israeli officials have warned leaders on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial reforms are "dismantling" the Israeli military, as Netanyahu arrives in the US, according to letter obtained by Middle East Eye. 

The letter, signed by 51 former officials from the Israeli military, Mossad, Shin Bet, police, defence ministry and National Security Council, claimed Netanyahu was "leading acts aimed at harming the Israeli judicial system and the Supreme Court in a way that will nullify the independence of the Israeli judiciary and subordinate it to Netanyahu and his fellow politicians.”

Netanyahu’s planned judicial overhaul has split opinion within Israel's political establishment and triggered widespread protests since it was first floated in January.

Advocates, including far-right members of Netanyahu’s government, say the reform-stripping power from a secular-leaning court system is overdue in a country that has swung more conservative and religious in recent years.

Opponents fear the changes may lead to a more authoritarian government by removing judicial oversight of decisions made by the government and ministers.

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Many elite members of Israel’s military have strongly opposed the judicial overhaul on the grounds it weakens Israeli security.

In August, the Israeli military intelligence unit, known as Aman, sent four letters to Netanyahu, warning that his judicial overhaul would damage Israeli deterrence against Iran and Hezbollah, and estimated that the likelihood of escalation is the highest it has been since the 2006 war in Lebanon

'Social fabric at risk'

Meanwhile, thousands of soldiers from all military units - air force, navy, infantry, cyber, intelligence, and other special units - have announced they will not show up for duty or training. Some of the most vocal have been skilled combat pilots, helicopter pilots and drone operators. 

In their letter, the 51 officials said Netanyahu’s efforts were “transforming the State of Israel from a democracy based on the principles of our Declaration of Independence to an autocracy that harms Israel's national strength through the dismantling the IDF, its defense establishment, economy, financial stability, and risks the social fabric of the people and the State of Israel”.

Among the dozens of signatories to the letter are former defence minister and Israeli military chief of staff, Moshe Ya'alon; former Mossad chief, Tamir Pardo; and former prime minister, defence minister, and Israeli army chief of staff, Ehud Barak.

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Pardo, who was in charge of Mossad from 2011 to 2016, made headlines in September when he said that Israel is enforcing an apartheid system against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, equating the treatment of Palestinians as similar to the racial separation implemented in South Africa, a system that ended in the 1990s.

The letter comes as Netanyahu set off for a visit to the US. His first stop is in San Jose, California. He is then expected to travel to New York to address the UN General Assembly and meet with US President Joe Biden.

The potential meeting is being carefully watched because of tensions between Israel and the US over the judicial overhaul and Netanyahu’s inclusion of far-right ministers in his cabinet. Biden said in an interview with CNN this summer that the current iteration of the government in Israel is the most extreme he has seen since he started working with Israeli prime ministers.

Netanyahu has yet to secure a visit to the White House, and two far-right members of his coalition, Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, have so far been snubbed by the Biden administration.

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