Officers back away from refusal to evacuate settlements
Officers say they have reservations in principle regarding refusal of orders; IDF to decide by Sun. whether to allow them to remain in army.
During a meeting Friday morning with the commander of the Israel Defense Force's regional Binyamin Brigade, senior figures among the 34 reserve officers who signed a letter stating they would refuse orders to evacuate settlements expressed reservations regarding their declared refusal, according to IDF sources.
In an attempt to clarify their position, the officers presented brigade commander Colonel Miki Edelstein with a letter stating their reservations - in principle - regarding refusal of orders.
The officers' letter, published on Thursday in Yedioth Ahronoth, stated that four battalion commanders and 30 other officers, all residents of West Bank settlements who serve in the Ramallah-area regional defense brigade, declared that they would refuse an order to evacuate settlements.
Edelstein will present a report on the meeting to GOC Central Command Moshe Kaplinsky and to Brigadier General Gadi Eizenkot, commander of IDF units in the West Bank. The IDF will then decide whether the officers will be allowed to remain in the army.
The IDF will decide by Sunday whether or not to take disciplinary action against the officers who signed the refusal letter.
Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon said Thursday that any officer who fails to retract his signature from the declaration of intent to refuse to evacuate settlements will be stripped of his rank and ousted from the IDF.
Ya'alon's hope is that firm action now will nip the right-wing refusal movement in the bud.
Several hundred troops sign protest refusalSeveral hundred reserve officers and combat soldiers who live in settlements signed a counter-petition Friday to protest the refusal of their fellow officers to carry out orders to evacuate settlements, Israel Radio reported.
The protest statement was signed by Colonel (Res.) Ben-Tzion Gruber, commander of a reserve armored brigade, Lieutenant Colonel Shayke El-Ami, head of the Etzion regional brigade command, and Motti Sklar, head of the Second Broadcasting Authority.
Gruber said their protest was a spontaneous response to the refusal of their fellow officers to carry out orders.
Despite the hard line the IDF is taking on refusal, the Yesha Rabbinic Council issued a statement Thursday evening urging Israel Defense Forces soldiers and officers to openly declare their opposition to the disengagement plan.
"The order to dismantle settlements goes against the laws of the Torah and human morality," said the statement by rabbis of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. "One should not assist this act."
The written statement was signed by rabbinic council chairman Rabbi Dov Lior, Rabbi Elyakim Levanon of Elon Moreh, Rabbi Dudkevitch of Yitzhar and Rabbi Shilo of Kedumim.
Mofaz: Possible indictment for disrupting IDF activityDefense Minister Shaul Mofaz also declared Thursday that any officer who disrupted the IDF's operations in the territories - whether by refusal or by any other means, such as the soldier who interfered with an outpost evacuation near Yitzhar on Monday - should be stripped of his rank, and possibly indicted.
"The legal tools [to deal with refusal] exist," Mofaz said during a discussion of the issue with senior army and police officers and legal officials.
"All that is needed is to use them. I ask and demand that the legal establishment apply all the relevant articles of the law and be as activist as possible. The reality has changed, and there is no other way."
Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra told the meeting that settlers who lashed out at soldiers during settlement or outpost evacuations should be deprived of their weapon licenses. He also advocated putting some extremists in administrative detention, but Mofaz disagreed.
The Yedioth report on the letter initially identified the signatories as members of a front-line combat unit in the Ramallah area, sparking fears that a wide-scale refusal movement was emerging among the very units most likely to be involved in evacuating settlements under the disengagement plan.
It later turned out, however, that the officers in question belonged to the regional defense brigade. This is not a front-line unit; its purpose is to assume responsibility for the territory around Ramallah in the event of a total war, thereby freeing the real combat units for service at the front. It is very unlikely that regional defense units would be used in any way to implement the disengagement.
Moreover, the IDF believes that right-wing activity has been particularly intensive this week in an effort to pressure United Torah Judaism into remaining out of the government. With UTJ having finally decided to join the coalition on Wednesday, the army hopes that the situation will soon calm down.
Nevertheless, the events of the past week - from the violent resistance to the evacuation of a settlement outpost near Yitzhar on Monday, to Thursday's letter in Yedioth - have left senior officers worried.
"We're on the brink of an abyss," one of them told Haaretz. "When a central stream in Israeli society is near to refusing, this poses a real danger to the IDF, and even to the very existence of the state. Mass refusal is a step from which there is no return. Let's assume they refuse. What will we do after the disengagement? Set up private political armies, each of which will carry out the orders that it deems appropriate?"
Leftist MKs: Dissolve regional defense brigadesThe letter also sparked numerous calls from leftist MKs for the army to dissolve the regional defense brigades.
Interior minister-designate Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor) said that the brigades were originally established as a convenience to the settlers, to allow them to serve near their homes. The minute they become a threat to democracy and the army's ability to function, they must be dissolved immediately, before the refusal virus spreads to other, similar brigades, he said.
MK Haim Oron (Yahad) said that it was a mistake from the start to set up brigades in which membership was based on geography, since this automatically imbued them with a distinct ideological character. "We must not wait and hesitate; this brigade should be dismantled today," he said.
MKs Reshef Chayne (Shinui) and Avshalom Vilan (Yahad) also urged the brigade's dissolution.
MKs also urged Ya'alon to act decisively against the letters' signatories. Labor MKs Ephraim Sneh and Matan Vilnai said that the officers should be dismissed from the army immediately and permanently, while MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) demanded that the military prosecution initiate proceedings against the officers.