Veterans of the elite Israeli intelligence unit ‘8200’ rallied to its own defense, Sunday, following a recent public denunciation by 43 of their former fellow teammates.According to AFP, Unit 8200 carries out electronic communications monitoring and surveillance, similar to work performed by the US National Security Agency and GCHQ, of the UK.

An open letter, sent to Israeli political and military leadership last week, was one of the most high-profile expressions of conscientious objection in years.

The signatories of the letter — reservists and former members of 8200 — said that the intelligence collected by the unit ‘was an integral part of Israel’s military occupation,’ and declared collective refusal in continuing to serve with the group.

They charged that the information gathered by Unit 8200 was used by civilian intelligence agencies in coercing Palestinians otherwise uninvolved in militant activity to engage in espionage against their own communities, and urged other members of the intelligence corps ‘to speak out against these injustices and to take action to bring them to an end.’

On Sunday, 200 veterans of the unit replied their former colleagues’ declaration:

‘We wish to express shock, disgust and complete disassociation from the regrettable letter that was written by our comrades from the unit,’ they wrote in the reply, excerpts of which were published by Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot…

‘Political refusal to serve has no place anywhere, and particularly so in Unit 8200. The moment we, as soldiers in the reserves, are called to the flag, we set aside our political inclinations and opinions, and come to serve the state.’

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon described the letter of refusal as a ‘foolish and offensive attempt’ to harm Unit 8200 which, according to AFP, is one component of the broader military intelligence corps and shares information with Israel’s civilian intelligence agencies.

Knesset opposition leader and Labor Party chairman, Isaac Herzog, a veteran of the unit, also said he opposed soldiers refusing to serve:

‘I’m not saying that there are no mistakes. It is certainly possible that there were,’ he wrote on his official Facebook page.

‘There are ways to effect change … but not by encouraging and calling for a refusal to serve or through publishing damaging statements around the world.’

According to the Alternative Information Center, Israeli army spokesperson Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz stated, on his Facebook page, that ‘there is no place for insubordination in the IDF’.

He added that ‘disciplinary measures will be loud and clear’.

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