Military Coup – Is It Possible in Israel?

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By Arik Kudler Lt. Col (Res)

It is “not a country which has an army, but an army which has a country” – said one of the leaders of the French Revolution, Honore Gabriel Riqueti, Comte de Mirabeau, referring to 18th century Prussia.

21st century Israel also isn’t a country which has an army, it is the IDF which has a country. The influence of the defense establishment on society in Israel goes far beyond security in the military sense.  There is a complex relationship between the society and the army and other security systems in Israel, as in every democratic state, where the military system is supposed to be an arm of the executive authority, which is subject to the decisions of the political level. The army and the other security organs (police, Mossad, and the General Security Services) execute the policy designed by the political level. Supervising them is especially complex because the army in Israel has a special position, derived from the importance of security, the fact that it is a basic service for the citizens, and from its bureaucratic autonomy.

Having said that, a question arises: Is it possible that a military coup ‘will take place in Israel? At first sight the answer tends to be completely negative. However, when one looks at developments in recent years – some doubts come to mind. Maybe it’s not the South American coup model, but there actually are some “spots” of disobedience to the army commands. Is this worrying? It sure does.

This was the subject of public discussion during the last several years. Former Head of the Mossad, Danny Yatom, cautioned about the prospect of a military coup in Israel, speaking at a Tel-Aviv symposium. He said that the religious soldiers are excellent soldiers, however the Rabbis have great influence on them, and they are prepared to obey the Rabbi before adhering to IDF commanders directions. He called to bring to trial those Rabbis that incite soldiers to insubordination, adding that the coup scenario seems surprisingly possible, taking into account the recent expressions of insubordination and delegitimation of government and the Knesset. “Military coup is no longer an imaginary scenario. It is imperative that a public discussion be held right now in order to ensure the readiness of our democracy, so that ultra-right nationalist elements would not initiate a coup. The Judiciary system must react with firm hand right now against inciters. Otherwise, major generals and brigadier generals might take their units and conduct a coup. It might happen within a few years unless we stop the drift.”

Maj. Gen. (Res.) Danny Rothschild, said during the same discussion that he too would not have thought that such thing could take place in Israel, but then he understood that one must never say never. “When I hear Rabbis telling soldiers to leave the army I’m worried about the possibility of them ordering the soldiers to take over the state. It does not happen only in the army but along all the state’s institutions. We should emphasize education to democratic values, and encourage IDF transparency at the media.”

“I do not think this scenario materializes tomorrow, but we can not ignore it. No mccarthyism will be tolerated within the ranks of the IDF. I do not make generalizations  against all the religious public, on the contrary – most of them are not anti-democratic.

These allegations brought about reactions by religious Members of the Knesset. Zvulun Orlev a former member of the Knesset said that Yatom’s words are dangerous and are severe incitement against the religious public. “The religious Zionism does not have to apologize for its loyalty to the State of Israel and the values of Zionism. Yatom’s expressions increase the danger to a coup against Religious Zionism.”

Indeed, Never Say Never..