The American reaction to Israel’s proposed judicial reform paved the way for various parties to stake out positions with regard to Israel, its government, its society and its place in the community of nations. Why those outside parties, particularly the U.S. government, felt the need to weigh in on a domestic Israeli proposal is unclear unless understood as a means of eroding or shorting the U.S.-Israel relationship.
With one very heavy piece of fallout.
The reported determination of Israeli reservists to skip service sent a shock through the American military establishment. US-Israel security cooperation has been a bulwark of American security planning in the Middle East and Persian Gulf for decades. The idea that the Israeli security establishment, an ally in R&D, production, exercises and intelligence could fall apart was a horror.
Sidestep: Security cooperation began in earnest in 1983 when President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir announced something called “strategic cooperation.” The U.S. military wasn’t opposed, but they couldn’t imagine then what a small country could bring to the table.
I had the honor of convening a group of military and security professionals. We spent two days constructing a grid of American requirements and possible Israeli inputs. We gave it to the head of the American delegation. He thanked us and the report was used in the first meetings.
The two countries became ever closer and, with the move of Israel from the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) to the U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM), joint planning and interoperability have moved farther and faster than the early proponents could have imagined. CENTCOM Commander Gen. Erik Kurilla has visited Israel at least eight times since his accession to command in April 2022. Israel has operated in the Red Sea alongside countries with which it does — and does not — have diplomatic relations. European countries have participated as well.
So, the idea promulgated in the Israeli (and American) press that zillions of reservists are refusing to show up for duty, and hearing former prime minister and IDF Chief of Staff Ehud Barak egging them on, was scary to American military people because it made them doubt an ally they had never doubted before. The media reported exaggerated statistics about who signed petitions and underplayed those who not only showed up, but who denounced those who called for insurrection.
David Weinberg, diplomatic and security writer for The Jerusalem Post and Israel Today, dug deeper and discovered that the first petition against reserve service was signed by voluntary reserves, not those required to appear. Then, he found a variety of petitions from active reserves a) denouncing the “strike” and b) emphasizing their commitment to the State and the IDF. Signed by much larger numbers.
Weinberg cited Col. Yair Pelei, Commander of the vaunted Golani Brigade, who noted that a massive training exercise had just concluded for which not a single reserve soldier refused to show-up for duty. Nor are they distracted by judicial reform. Pelei: “Not at all. It is not something we discuss. Every soldier puts aside his personal views when it is time to train, with the understanding that Israel’s security is paramount and that they have a job to do that prevails over politics.”
Journalist Michael Solutin wrote about an online petition launched last week that had, by Friday, 80,000 signatures by Israeli army reservists. It reads, in part, “We, former soldiers or in the reserve of the IDF, are against the refusals, and remain loyal to the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. We will serve the State of Israel because it is our only State — and we will protect it at all costs!”
In late July, Gen. Kurilla returned to Israel for his eighth series of meetings, which included the Ministry of Defense and the intelligence services. According to the official statement, Kurilla said, “Significant progress has been made in interoperability between the IDF and U.S. Central Command in the short time Israel has been part of the CENTCOM area of responsibility. The ability for our forces to work together is a key aspect of our combined efforts to support regional stability.”
Bringing us up to date, this week the U.S. 5th Fleet & Israeli Navy kicked off an annual exercise in Haifa. “Israel is one of our most capable maritime partners & these exercises further underscore historic military cooperation achieved in recent years,” said VADM Cooper, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, US 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces.
The U.S. military, it appears, is sticking by its ally to the benefit of both countries and the broader region.