Attrition: Arabs In the IDF


August 7, 2021: A side effect of the improved relations between Israel and Arab states, especially in the Arabian Peninsula (UAE, Saudi Arabia), is more Israeli Arabs are joining the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces). All Israeli Jews are subject to conscription, as are two special non-Jewish minorities (Druze and Circassians). Each year the Israeli military takes in between fifty and fifty-five thousand new recruits, who will serve for 30 months. Each year a small number of Israeli Moslem volunteer for military service and that number has been going up. In 2020 there were 606 Moslem volunteers, up from 489 in 2019 and 436 in 2018. About half the Moslem volunteers went to combat units. The percentage of Moslem volunteers who leave the military before their term of service also declined as well. In 2020 it was 23 percent compared to 30 percent in 2019. Most of those who leave early do so because of pressure from Israeli Moslems, who are 20 percent of Israeli citizens. That pressure is declining along with Israeli Arab support for the Palestinians. Arabs in general, especially in the oil-rich Gulf states, have long given up on the Palestinians, who prove again and again that they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity for peace. The Gaza Palestinians have something of an excuse as they are ruled by Hamas, an Islamic terrorist group that took over after winning an election in 2007 and did not allow elections after that. Most Gaza residents are hostile to Hamas, which now depends on Iran for most of its financial support. Iran is officially at war with Sunni Arabs, which is what most Palestinians and Israeli Arabs are.

Before the shift in Arab attitudes, there was one group of Arab Moslems in Israel that sided with Israel. The Bedouin Arabs have long contributed most of the Moslem volunteers and continue to do so, in large part because the Bedouin have long been looked down on by other Arabs but get respect from Israelis, especially if they have served in the military.

Then there are the Druze, a minority despised by most Moslems. The Israeli Druze asked to be conscripted and that was done. Over the years more and more Druze have become career soldiers and qualified for more high-tech jobs. In 2019 the Israeli Air Force gained its first Druze pilot as he completed the course for helicopter pilots. He could have attended the fighter pilot course but had a preference for helicopters. There is also a Druze serving in the air force as a navigator. That officer had been promoted to lieutenant colonel and became commander of a staff school. While only two percent of Israelis are Druze, they are subject to conscription because they, like Jews, are also hated by most Moslems. The Druze are considered heretics or pagans by Moslems, depending on which misconception you choose. Early on Jews and Druze established a “blood covenant” in which both Jews and Druze declared their loyalty to Israel and each other. The only other Moslem group subject to conscription are the Circassians, a Sunni Moslem group originally from the Caucasus who were exiled by the Ottoman Empire to what became Israel. Arabs saw the Circassians as foreigners, especially since they looked more European than Arab. Before and during the Jewish war for independence the Circassians, along with the Druze, sided with the Jews and were accepted as Israeli citizens when Israel became a state. The Circassians sought and were allowed to be conscripted. The Circassians were always a small minority because, like European Jews, they sought secular education and had smaller families so all the children could be well educated. There are only about 4,000 Circassians in Israel and they are allowed to attend their own schools in order to maintain their culture.

Not all Druze living in Israel belong to the Druze covenant. For example, in late 2018 several dozen Israeli Druze in the Golan Heights held a pro-Assad demonstration that was acknowledged by Syrian soldiers guarding the border who shouted encouragement. The Israeli border police did not interfere. While most of the 20,000 Druze living in Israeli-controlled (since 1967) Golan Heights retained their Syrian nationality, Israel did not hold that against them. A growing number of younger Druze are accepting the offer of Israeli citizenship. But older Syrian Druze are more concerned with kin who still live in Syria and are subject to persecution if the Assad government discovers family members who are Israeli citizens.

Many of the Druze in Syria, where they are about five percent of the population, turned against the Assad government by 2015. From late 2014 until 2018 al Nusra Islamic terrorists and other Syrian rebels controlled most of the border adjacent to Israel. This created problems with the Israeli Druze who feared for the safety of the 500,000 Syrian Druze. The 130,000 Israeli Druze have been pressuring Israel since 2013 to rescue or help protect Druze living across the border in Syria.

Israel agreed to help but never released a lot of details. The solution apparently involved quietly making deals with Syrian rebels. This solution meant there was no need to allow lots of Syrian Druze into Israel or send Israeli troops across the border to establish a “safe zone” for Syrian Druze. This would preserve the lands of Syrian Druze and not turn them into refugees, but would also be more expensive in cash and lives for Israel to defend this new border. That never happened. With ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) gone from the Israeli border by late 2017, al Nusra (pro-al Qaeda rebels) and Assad forces controlled most of the border. Al Nusra was driven away from the Israeli border by Syrian soldiers and Iranian mercenaries in early 2018 and from then on, the entire southern border was controlled by the Assad forces. Many Syrian Druze now want to join their Israeli kin, for the same reason Egyptian Bedouin would prefer to be Israeli Bedouin because Israel treats its religious and ethnic minorities far better than the Arab states.

Arab Israelis could always volunteer for the military and there were always some who did. But the total serving at any one time was only a few thousand Arab volunteers, and this includes Arab Christians and Bedouins. Military service is admired among the Bedouin so many volunteered to serve and several have won medals for valor in combat while others have become career officers.

Many Israeli Arabs, especially young ones, were attracted to Islamic radicalism. For example, in mid-2010 sixteen Israeli Arabs were accused of terrorism or providing assistance to Islamic terrorists. This treason by Israeli Arabs has been an increasing problem. While some 20 percent of Israeli citizens are Arabs, not all are Moslem. About 12 percent of Israeli Arabs are Christian and eight percent are Druze. When Israeli Arabs volunteer, they are first carefully screened. Despite that, one of the Israeli Arabs arrested in 2010 was a career army NCO, who worked on vehicle maintenance in a northern Israel army base. He provided the names of seven local Israeli Arab civilians who, like he, were also working for a drug smuggling gang. What was most troublesome about this was that the drug gang was known to work with Islamic terror group Hezbollah, which controls most of southern Lebanon.

The NCO provided information to the smugglers on which border posts were having problems with their surveillance equipment or other gear, and what the patrol schedules were. The drug gangs bring their stuff in from Lebanon, where Hezbollah has to be paid off. Information on the Israeli military is very valuable, and it's believed that Hezbollah was getting what the Israeli sergeant was passing on to the drug gang. The Israeli NCO admitted he did it for the money. Hezbollah has had increasing success getting Israelis, usually Israeli Arabs, to spy for them for cash.

Israel also had some problems with Bedouins and smuggling. Bedouins are unpopular in many Moslem countries because Bedouins were nomads for thousands of years and tended to disregard borders. For many Bedouins, smuggling is not considered a crime but an ancient Bedouin tradition. Israeli police can at least get the Bedouin smugglers to cooperate, especially when the Israeli Bedouin were having problems on the Egyptian (Sinai) side of the border. Few Bedouin Israelis get involved with Islamic terrorism. That is an exception.

Eight of the Israeli Arabs arrested in 2010 were directly involved in Islamic terrorism. Several of them were charged with murdering three Israeli Jews in 2009. The eight were also involved in buying, selling and smuggling illegal firearms, and seeking to obtain explosives for terror attacks. Several of these men traveled overseas a lot, and it was their trips to Ethiopia and Kenya which put them under investigation.

While Israeli Jewish gangsters stay away from terrorism, the Israeli Arab criminals use their ethnic ties, and knowledge of Arabic, to work with gangsters in neighboring Arab states. These gangs are more willing to work with Islamic terrorists, especially in Lebanon and Syria where Islamic terrorism is, for all practical purposes, legal.

Israel had adapted to all these “ancient customs” by carefully screening Moslems seeking to join the military and quietly keeping an eye on the behavior of Moslem troops to detect any signs of problems and, if possible, stop it before the Moslem soldier gets himself in major trouble. Sometimes a quiet discharge or not allowing a Moslem soldier to re-enlist solves the problem. Israel prefers to publicly honor the loyal Moslem soldiers and weed out the questionable ones, quietly if possible.

Meanwhile, the first Druze helicopter pilot in the Israeli air force is considered a very successful man by his family and fellow Druze, but he and his family prefer that the pilot’s name not appear in the media.


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