Protesting Pilots A Factor In Israeli Readiness?


It’s not clear how the Israeli Air Force’s readiness in the face of Saturday’s attack by Hamas was affected by a months-long boycott of flying by some of its most experienced pilots. It’s also not clear if any of the more than 400 reserve pilots, including 300 fighter pilots, are still refusing to fly in a protest over judicial reforms. The changes allow the government to overrule the judiciary and the pilots, who are among 1,100 reservists to withdraw their services, have said they would refuse to attack other countries at the behest of an “undemocratic” and “authoritarian” Israel.

A few days before the Hamas attack, Israeli Air Force Commander Maj. Gen Tomer Bar gave the protesting pilots until Oct. 17 to get back in uniform or risk losing flying status and being kicked out of the military. At the time, Bar was concerned about getting the volunteer pilots requalified in time for a major military exercise planned for the end of the month. Most of the protesters had not flown for more than three months when the attacks started. When they announced their intention to not show up for training, Bar said it would hurt the IAF’s readiness, and he later described the air force’s readiness as “worsening.”

Meanwhile, The Washington Post is reporting that Hamas forces used powered paragliders to cross the border into Israel amidst a barrage of rocket fire. The U.S. has moved a carrier group into the region and is moving about 25 more fighters there as a deterrence to try to prevent the war from spreading.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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    • Yep, and sadly they refused to protect their country. In a very small way, they also allowed this attack to happen. Just like the United States pre-9/11, we became complacent which fosters these radial murders (no longer terrorist when you attack women and children.)

      As a former XO of Marines, I can tell you firsthand that in the mid-late 70s / early 80s, I witnessed in our Corps. When the bombing occurred on Oct 23, 1983, the young Marines realized quickly that this was not just serving but being ready at any given moment. By the late 80s, we were starting to witness the same laid-back attitude and the Gulf War came along.

    • Yep, and sadly they refused to protect their country. In a very small way, they also allowed this attack to happen. Just like the United States pre-9/11, we became complacent which fosters these radial murders (no longer terrorist when you attack women and children.)

      As a former XO of Marines, I can tell you firsthand that in the mid-late 70s / early 80s, I witnessed in our Corps. When the bombing occurred on Oct 23, 1983, the young Marines realized quickly that this was not just serving but being ready at any given moment. By the late 80s, we were starting to witness the same laid-back attitude and the Gulf War came along.

    • +1. Those in the government who are seeking to reduce the authority of the judiciary are very much to blame for this.

        • It makes perfect sense. Who wants to put their life on the line every day when the leader is moving to an authoritarian rule and seeking power to stop investigations into his crimes? (Why does that seem familiar?)

          • Are you referring to how a lifetime politician accumulated millions for him and his family. Then use the DOJ to cut sweetheart deals to avoid any investigations.

          • Man, this stuff is so complicated. I have an Israeli friend. On one side, the investigations were pretty sketchy, and the judiciary there has become a captured institution which is not very representative of the country.
            On the other side Netanyahu certainly played some crazy games to win. They need a constitution, badly. Hopefully, they will realize that after they clean up this latest mess.

    • Nonsense. One either defends the country or get out of the military. Obviously Israel doesn’t have the idea of civil control of the military that the US has had since the days of George Washington. My career Soldier Dad and I believed in this when we both served. This is what you get when military members forget their duty.

  1. This is a serious subject for a country that has just declared war. If you’re into praying, these pilots and this country needs your and our prayers. Most importantly, they need Jesus Christ on their side! Of course if this is not your thing, that’s why we have freedom of religion!

    Every day, we all have to make the decision to fly or not to fly. There is no way we can put ourselves in their shoes.

    • We civilian pilots can decide every day whether to fly or not. I’d like to think that members of the armed services are ready to do their jobs whether they like the current political leadership or not. Just a thought.

  2. It’s hyperbole to say that democracy is being threatened in Isreal. The judicial reforms seem reasonable to me. The Israeli Supreme Court has the authority to override the parliaments law making authority. Their Supreme Court can supplant their judgment over the elected officials thereby becoming a quasi legislative body. That seems undemocratic to me. Israel has no constitution for the Supreme Court to rule on like our system. This issue is a political one that the far left has called a threat to democracy in Israel when in fact what they are advocating for is actually undemocratic (allowing their Supreme Court to act as a super legislative body). This is the sort of gas lighting that we see the modern Democrat party doing in this country everyday. These pilots seem to think that taking their marbles and going home is the virtuous thing to do when it is the exact opposite. If our military did that everytime they disagreed with the civilian leadership we wouldn’t have a military right now. They should put their big boy pants on and do what they were sworn to do.

  3. I am a firm believer that Military personnel such as these reservists should always remain neutral regarding political issues and not strike, protest or refuse orders because of their personal ideology.

    That be said, however, Israel definitely has a dilemma on their plate regarding Netanyahu and his so called reform.

    ‘A dark day for Israeli democracy’: Headlines rang….

    Most US Jewish groups denounce Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul

    Jewish groups in the US have condemned the Israeli parliament’s vote to limit the power of the judiciary as a threat to democracy and warned that it could damage relations with American Jews.

    Some history here :

    After seven months of fierce debate, the Israeli government voted recently to limit the court’s ability to overturn laws. The changes have been denounced by critics as a transparent power grab that will erode democratic norms and aid Netanyahu’s fight against graft charges, which he denies.

    Israeli parliament voted in Netanyahu’s controversial supreme court changes

    Others have warned that the legislation is a step toward the desire of the ultra-nationalists in Netanyahu’s government to annex some or all of the occupied territories.

    How ironic is that?

    • Like I said political and your post proves my point. This is simply a political disagreement. Instead of military personnel using their military positions to make political points they should work to elect people that agree with their positions. That is how democracy should work.

  4. I am sorry. But it seems like dereliction of duty by those sworn to defend their nation. They should use their vote to sway change, but stay quiet and do their duty. It is not like they are being asked to follow a criminal order, they just don’t like their country’s politics. Just do the job they signed up for. I have noticed most of the active duty officers I know here in the US avoid expressing any political views publicly. They keep discipline and attend to their duty. Once they our veterans that’s a different story and more power to them.

    • I don’t know what the Israel’s laws are regarding taking the oath to serve and protect their country. Is it that they have to serve regardless at a certain age like we once had the draft? Or does the military rely on volunteers to serve as we do. I know here in the US we have at most 1% of our population join and serve honorably in all our branches of services. It’s really sad that it’s this way here but does Israel have this issue. To me and our military bring so low on numbers, I think that all of these immigrants crossing our borders should automatically be enlisted and serve a min of 4 like our service members do. Both men and women having to serve shows their allegiance to our country.

      Any ways long story short, what does Israel have regarding their military and service.

  5. Here’s an idea: Let’s wait till the war is over to pick this thing apart and pontificate on causes. After action reports are usually done, well, after the action to avoid the fog of misinformation. We don’t know for certain what is going on within the ranks at this moment.

  6. People have to make hard decisions sometimes. In this case, it seems that the pilots believe they are serving their country best by defending it from an enemy within – Netanyahu’s govt that is trying to do away with critical checks and balances. Who are we – so far away from the situation, and with no dog in the fight – to judge their decision?

    • You are making a political statement when you say the PM is “trying to do away with checks and balances”. The other side would say the court in Isreal grabbed more power than a democratic system allows. So, they used the democratic process to slightly shift the power away from the courts back to the people. You and others that argue that “democracy is threatened or its an authoritarian government” just don’t like the outcome of the democratic process.

  7. Certainly, the general political turmoil within Israel would have been an influencing factor for the Hamas leadership in their decision to launch the attack, and the “pilot strike” has been a high-profile component of that unrest. However, their fear that the pending Saudi-Israeli accord was going to reduce their sway within the Arab world was probably a more significant factor.

    Maintaining Arab solidarity against Israel is their #1 strategic priority and they calculated it was time to use the double-edged sword; the successful attack is in itself a big propaganda coup but of even more propaganda value to them will be the death & destruction within their own population caused by their intentional triggering of major Israeli counterstrikes. Such reasoning may seem unbelievably cold to Western sensibilities, but the Mideast has its own standards.

  8. If you are criticizing the Israeli pilots, you do not understand Israel. Defying orders is a HUGE deal, reflected in society, not just in the military. Under normal circumstances a pilot refusing to fly would be ostracized by the entire Jewish state. The fact that they were not ostracized, but supported and praised by the tens of thousands (equivalent to millions in the US) who were protesting every single week.
    Whether YOU like Israeli politics or not is irrelevant. But if you think that PILOTS could have stopped this invasion, you are fooling yourself. This was a multi-prong attack by a well-trained terrorist force.
    Babies have been kidnapped. Can we have a little respect for the ongoing pain of those who are suffering?
    PS – EVERY pilot has returned to service. Every. Single. One.

  9. Just like here in the US, Israel is facing a radical “left wing” take over. The authoritarian leadership they oppose, is called “Conservativism” here. The left wants to make all policy and not have any right wing opinions at all. They brain wash their side to the point of any opposition is immediately attacked and smashed. Then they paint the conservative side as the radicals. (Senseless the world over, but it sure makes Communism easier to install). P.S. that kind of thinking and action is the very basis of slavery… are NOT allowed to have free thought. Remember last week Hillary said we right wingers need (Forced Reprogramming). That don’t sound nice, now does it.

  10. This issue of judicial overreach is an existential issue in more places than Israel. It is certainly happening in Canada, facilitated by a Charter of Rights that was corrupted in the very first paragraph by the prime minister pusher who is the father of the current Canadian prime minister. By existential, I am referring to the “democracy” in both Israel and Canada (and elsewhere) in which judicial activism – that would the arbitrary ability of judges to over rule legislated policies without any recourse to the voters in that democracy. That military pilots have been convinced to stand down in Israel over this fight is a sad indication of how much the influence of socialist / communist activists has reached into the the educational and formative narratives in the Israeli society. Hopefully what I read from one of the comments above is true and that they have finally come back on the job. It still is going mean some urgent re-qualification flights to get the skills back up to par. Also the thought occurs that war mongering may be the final desperate effort of the elites to make sure the US purse remains open and carried forward with more CRs so that budget details never get the close scrutiny necessary to stop the headlong rush over the cliff of debt disaster. At this stage, I’m with Tiger…

  11. Kudos to the Israeli Air Force pilots!

    Sickening to read all the misinterpretations here of what is happening in with democracy in Israel, and trying to give it a spin that fits into the tilted world view of today’s U.S. conservatives.

    As too few have pointed out here correctly: Netanyahu is trying to do away with Checks and Balances. He is an autocrat in the making, no doubt.

    The true patriots are Israelis like the pilots who opposed this (and I have no doubt they have not hesitated a second to return to service after the cowardly attacks by Hamas). Just like the true patriots in the U.S. are those who oppose January 6 and all that came of it, not those who were behind it.

    • Clearly you don’t like the democratic process. The sky is falling our democracy is under attack. No, you just don’t like the people deciding for themselves through their elected representatives. The Israeli PMs government won’t last if he does not have the support of a majority of the people.

      Maybe you should be concerned with the big social media companies teaming up with politicians to stifle free speech. That’s a true threat to democracy.

  12. I must respectfully disagree with Jan’s comment. Jan – can you defend changing the court system so that judges have unchecked power to overrule any laws for any reason without the voters in the democracy having recourse to redress wrong decisions or decisions that take away God given rights of the people? If you say yes, I cannot reconcile with you no matter how much I would like to and am determined to respect your right to disagree. These are the kind of issues that are tearing the fabric of society apart and opening the door to tyrannical governments – of which Netanyahu is attempting to put right. The tyrants in my view, are on the left. I dearly wish we could bridge that gap between us, but I do not see how given your stated position.

  13. I hope Avweb would stay away from politics and religion. The article just factually reports on circumstances. If it wasn’t a nasty swamp to wade in at night the Israeli government would have solved it already.

  14. Wondering why my answer to Lee D on Oct 10, 6:32 pm after 3 days is still stuck “awaiting moderation”… when insults and slander are raining on me all because of a balancing comment. Intention or an oversight?

    Yes, I digressed from the aviation context, but so did most others here.

  15. Ah, I see, it may be due to a link I included – that seems to require moderation that is apparently not happening.

    So here is my answer to Lee D once more without the link:
    Trust me, those opposing judiciary reform in Israel are not on the Left. Neither am I – never have been and never will be.

    Read up on what this reform entails, and on the corruption of Netanyahu and his party. Then reconsider.

    Here is a good starting point:
    Google Matti Friedman’s article “After 30 Years in Israel, I See My Country Differently” in The Atlantic.

  16. Jan, I followed your suggestion and read the Matti Friedman article you reference. The first point that a formal written constitution for Israel has never been put in place since 1950 is something I was not aware of. In this way, Canada and Israel are similar – no formal written constitution. This question I asked you October 10th – “can you defend changing the court system so that judges have unchecked power to overrule any laws for any reason without the voters in the democracy having recourse…” you did not answer. Perhaps my question has it wrong??? Is there some democratic check on the Israeli supreme court? If so, what would it be? We can carry this on in another forum if you like, I am @leed2020 on X.

  17. Lee, I think there is no simple “yes” or “no” answer to your question.

    To quote from the SCOTUS website: “When the Supreme Court rules on a constitutional issue, that judgment is virtually final; its decisions can be altered only by the rarely used procedure of constitutional amendment or by a new ruling of the Court. ”

    To my knowledge, the Israele Supreme Court does not have the power to overrule the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) in the same way that the Supreme Court of the United States can overrule laws passed by Congress!

    I assume you agree to the way the U.S. Constitution is designed in this regard? If yes, you should be critical of the reforms planned by the Israeli government.

  18. Per your response, I have reviewed a number of articles that come up upon asking google “what court reforms are being sought by Israeli government?” Just as in Canada, the central question is “what is reasonableness” as a criteria for judicial decision making. Many on the right think that “reasonableness” is far too loose a criteria, especially when it can be used to overturn any law voted on by a majority of the Knesset. A similar clause in the first paragraph of the Canadian Charter of Rights has been cited as sufficient reason for pandemic lockdowns, mask mandates, and forced vaccination as just one example we have experienced in Canada. My support for Netanyahu stems from the observation that the fight he is leading would be to limit similar court prerogatives in Israel. Everywhere we see “reasonableness” as a final criteria for judges, we find evidence of similar arbitrary limits being imposed on populations with no way to fight back – see Australia, NZ, and UK. The fact that the military in particular has somehow been convinced to participate in walkouts shows the extent of influence by one side of the argument in Israeli society – very seriously undermining readiness and opening the whole country to the kind of attacks that just occurred a week ago. We should move this conversation to another venue – my apologies to the vast majority here who prefer the topic to be flight related as much as possible.

  19. I happen to be in a couple of briefings this past week and I’d like to set the record straight. First, the pilots and crew discussed are reservists who are not part of the “regular” forces. Yes, they do serve “miloim” time (Israelis serve in reserves on an annual basis until they are 40) but much of the pilot reservist time is in training to keep there qualifications current, much as the rest of us do in recurrent training.
    Second, when the call went out for reservists to report, an astonishing 130% showed up. All the politics was set aside, they showed up in numbers unprecedented.
    Third, there will be plenty of time AFTER this is all over to determine why this happened and who was to blame.
    Fourth, I am Canadian. Yes the Supreme Court in Canada, as well as in Israel and the US has, at times, changed laws. I can think of a few over the last number of years, and I would turn around the question of “over-reach” and ask how the politicians who passed laws that may not have been “consititutional” or “legal” have reacted. Sometimes our political classes “gotta make a laws” without thinking of the consequences. I had a very nice chat with one of Canada’s Supreme Court Justices and there’s more involved than the radio commentators tell you.