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Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sacked his defence minister Yoav Gallant after he called for a judicial overhaul to be halted, warning that it posed an “immediate danger” to national security.

The fight over the bitterly contested proposals, which would significantly weaken the powers of the judiciary, has sparked the biggest wave of protests in Israel for more than a decade and plunged the country into a deep political crisis.

On Saturday, Gallant became the most senior figure in Netanyahu’s hardline government to call for a halt to the overhaul, warning that the polarisation it had caused was undermining the military. Thousands of reservists have threatened not to report for training in protest against the plans.

Netanyahu’s office said in a brief statement on Sunday night that he had decided to dismiss Gallant, without elaborating. Netanyahu subsequently wrote on Twitter: “We must stand firm in the face of anyone who refuses to serve”.

Gallant, a former officer in Israel’s military, said that the country’s security “has always been and will always be my life’s mission”.

Gallant’s decision to break ranks and call for a halt to the overhaul underscored the simmering tensions within the coalition over the proposed changes, which will give the government and its allies greater control over the appointment of judges, and limit the top court’s power to strike down laws.

Supporters say the changes are needed to rein in an activist judiciary that has pushed a partisan leftwing agenda. But critics see the overhaul as a fundamental threat to Israel’s checks and balances that will eviscerate minority protections, foster corruption and damage the economy.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have joined protests against the plans, with the latest round on Saturday night taking place in more than 100 locations across the country. Organisers called for another protest in Tel Aviv on Sunday night in response to Gallant’s firing.

Yair Lapid, head of Yesh Atid, the largest opposition grouping, branded Gallant’s dismissal a “new low” for a “government that harms national security and ignores the warning of all security officials”.

“Netanyahu can fire Gallant, but he cannot fire reality and cannot fire the people of Israel who are standing up to the insanity of the coalition,” he wrote on Twitter.

However, hardliners in Netanyahu’s coalition celebrated. Itamar Ben-Gvir, the ultranationalist national security minister, who had called for Gallant to be dismissed after his statement on Saturday, congratulated Netanyahu.

“Whoever capitulates to the military objectors cannot remain at his post even for one moment,” Ben-Gvir said.

Netanyahu said on Thursday that the government would press ahead with the overhaul, and bring the amendment that gives it greater control over judicial appointments to parliament for a final vote this week.

Two other MPs from Netanyahu’s coalition, Yuli Edelstein and David Bitan, backed Gallant’s call for a delay on Saturday. But to block the legislation, several members of the coalition would have to vote against it. The government controls 64 seats in Israel’s 120-seat parliament.

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