Israeli Air Force (IAF) pilots have joined a growing strike and initiated meetings with officials over plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to overhaul the country’s judicial system.
The action includes 37 out of 40 pilots from the air force’s 69th “Hammers” squadron refusing to conduct their services due to what they described “a coup” in the government, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
The 69th is the only IAF squadron flying the F-15I, the Israeli version of the F-15E Strike Eagle strike fighter.
On March 3, 2023, a meeting was organized between the head of IAF, Tomer Bar, and a delegation of reservist pilots who accused the command of giving illegal orders, the Times of Israel reports.
In a separate letter, signed by a collective of former IAF commanders and directed at Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, the officers expressed concern over the political situation.
“From a deep familiarity with the central and special weight of the [Air] Force in national security, which you are well aware of, we are fearful over the consequences of these processes and the serious and tangible danger posed to the national security of the State of Israel,” the letter read, as reported by the Times of Israel.
In a separate occurrence, reports suggest that pilots at Israel’s flag carrier El Al refused to fly Netanyahu back to Israel from a visit to Rome.
El Al later said that an alternative crew was found, and the flight departed as scheduled.
The crisis, which appears to have caused unrest in the country’s highly regarded air force, is the result of what many have described as the Netanyahu government’s attempts at enacting elements of authoritarian rule.
A judicial reform was proposed by the Israeli government, aiming to limit the power of the country’s Supreme Court and extend the government’s reach over the Israeli judicial system. The reform sparked a wave of public uproar, protests, and civil unrest across the country.
Additional discontent was sparked by the Israeli Minister of Finance, who said that Israel should “wipe out” the Palestinian town of Huwara in response to the deaths of two Israeli citizens.
In their meeting with the chief of the IAF, reservist pilots reportedly said that they would face the risk of being prosecuted by the International Criminal Court in the case of compliance with the government’s conduct.