December 17, 2007:
Defense Forces (IDF) is running out of soldiers. Not just because of a low
birth rate, but also because of an increasing number of potential recruits are
The Israeli armed forces has
about 160,000 people on active duty, about 60 percent of those are draftees
(men serving for 36 months, women for 21 months). You get drafted at 18, unless
you have a deferment. For a long time, nearly ten percent of potential draftees
were deferred because they were ultra-orthodox Jews in religious schools. Now
that's up to eleven percent, as more young Orthodox Jews use the religious
study deferment. Another seven percent are exempted on health grounds, five
percent because of criminal records and four percent because they are living
abroad. Fraud is increasingly a factor in religious and health exemptions.
Others are known to have gotten in trouble with the police, just to have enough
of a police record to be exempt from military duty. For those who can afford
it, living overseas for a while works, and is perfectly legal.
Moreover, about 25 percent of
potential male recruits are exempt (unless they volunteer) because they are Moslem
or Christian. It's easy for women to get exemptions, and over a third do. As a
result, Israel is having a difficult time keeping its armed forces up to
The problem with the draft
dodgers is that they know that Israel has never been defeated in war, and has
been the top military power in the region for decades. Many young men believe
they won't be missed if they manage to fake their way into an exemption.
The military is taking a
number of measures to deal with the problem, but the way things are going now,
the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) will still be short 50,000 or more troops on
mobilization. Normally, when Israel mobilizes for war, reservists (men serve
until age 41, women until 24) quickly expand the size of the armed forces to
In reaction to all this, the
military is making a big deal out of draft dodging, hoping to shame more men
into stepping up. Second, it is allowing more of the minorities, especially
those who only serve if they volunteer, to get into any job they qualify for.
In the past, Arabs were restricted from many fields, because of suspected
loyalty conflicts in wartime. But now the military believes they have screening
that can detect who is loyal and who is not.
Finally, the military is
making more of an effort to integrate young recent immigrants into the
military. Because these guys often had not yet mastered the language and
customs, they usually end up in menial jobs. Highly educated conscripts don't
respond well to that, and it's a waste of valuable skills. So the military is
going to give these guys more opportunities, and see how they respond.
The basic idea here is that
quality is more important than quantity. This has always been important in the
IDF, but with an increasing number of young Israelis avoiding service, that
quality edge becomes even more important. For older Israelis, this situation is
hard to comprehend. For sixty years, service in the IDF was seen as an
essential element in achieving civilian success. Your job opportunities were
better if you had served in an elite infantry unit, or been an officer. That's
no longer the case. Israeli society is changing, and the IDF has to adapt, or