Israeli settler leaders have warned that thousands of soldiers could refuse to obey orders to evacuate Gaza Strip settlements if the government goes ahead with its plan to withdraw from the area later this year. The warning comes a day after top Israeli army leaders said the military must prepare for that very possibility and that such behavior could seriously damage Israeli society.
Settler leader Pinchas Wallerstein hinted at mass mutiny and told Israel's Army Radio on Monday that thousands of soldiers could refuse to carry out the evacuation orders.
Some government officials say the prediction is exaggerated, but even military officials have voiced concern about possible insubordination, especially since settlers have filled many key positions in the army's officer corps.
Some settler rabbis have called on their followers who serve in the army to refuse to carry out any evacuation orders.
The Settlers' Council has officially said it does not support insubordination. But government officials say the council's position that it is acceptable to break the law when opposing the evacuation plan encourages insubordination. Settlers Council Deputy Shaul Goldstein feels it is government policy that is to blame.
"I think if the government is going to push this plan without any referendum or new elections, without listening to the voices of all parts of society I think it might be a big, big problem," he said. "We have to apply [appeal] to the prime minister please go back to the people and ask them."
Army Chief Moshe Yaalon has called the Gaza pullout plan the army's greatest challenge this year, saying it "touches the open nerves of ideology, beliefs and way of life." He also warned that insubordination could have serious consequences.
And, in an interview on Israel Radio Monday, Deputy Defense Minister Zeev Boim called on settler leaders to act responsibly.
Mr. Boim said they should warn their followers of the dangers of insubordination in a democratic society. He said a mass refusal by soldiers to obey orders could make it impossible to implement the Gaza withdrawal.
Opinion polls show that the majority of Israelis support the governments plan to evacuate all the settlements in the Gaza Strip and four small ones in the northern West Bank. But many of the more than 200,000 settlers believe the West Bank and Gaza Strip are the biblical birthright of the Jewish people. And, the settlers and their supporters have long been a potent force in Israel's politics and society.