Israel’s Army Out of the Box
By Moshe Feiglin
In Israel, you just don’t talk about Israel’s Defense Forces, the IDF.
People prefer not to think about the army’s shortcomings, blithely saying that if the IDF has successfully protected Israel over the past sixty years, it must know what it is doing. Only people from within the system – and with a lot of decorations on their shoulders – are allowed to express their opinions and occasionally – their criticism.
With all due respect to the IDF, a serious analysis of the history of Israel’s wars leads us to the conclusion that in some cases, Israel didn’t survive because of the IDF, but despite it. The IDF is the army of the entire nation. It is the largest and most important tool that Israel has in its battle for its physical survival. Silencing constructive criticism does not help it to become a more effective army.
Now for a personal story. As part of my reserve army service, I was once sent to command a small group of soldiers at a front line position on the border. After we got ourselves organized, the commander of the area arrived to check the capabilities of the new units manning the posts.
“Do you have any comments?” the officer asked us. “Yes,” I answered, “It is very easy for a single terrorist to infiltrate this outpost and to murder the guard and the other soldiers as they sleep in their beds.” At this point I delineated the exact and simple path that a potential terrorist could take. The commander’s reaction surprised me. He was visibly angered and left the outpost.
Two years later, our battalion was sent once again to that outpost. A 16 year old terrorist infiltrated – using the exact path that I had described to my superior – and murdered one of our soldiers.
With that in mind, I would like to present some ideas to improve the IDF.
Draft age is too early. An 18 year old is not mature enough to be a soldier. This was true in the past and is even truer today, when society conditions youth to remain children as long as possible. Men should be drafted at the age of 20, as prescribed by the Torah (Numbers 1:45). At 20, a young man is mature enough to serve in the army. When I was only 19 years old, I was already an officer. Some of my soldiers had been drafted late and were 20 or older. The difference in their performance was clear for all to see.
An army based on soldiers who begin their military service when they are 20 will be a mature, professional, efficient army, free of those “immaturity” blunders that fluster boys who are not yet ready for army life. Presumably, the number of army suicides will drop, as well.
Currently, Israeli boys are inducted into the army at the age of 18 because that is when they finish high school. In the two year interim until their induction at age 20, these boys should be allowed to do national service or to pursue whatever path they choose.
If an 18 year old decides that he would like to spend the next two years traveling the world or to begin his academic studies that would be fine. But the future draftees should also be allowed to do national service vital to our country in exchange for one year of the three year term of military service. Alternately, they could be sent to study professions that are in short supply in Israel, such as medicine or Jewish studies. These studies can be considered one year of national service. These students should be allowed to defer their draft until the completion of their studies.
Another point: I believe that the IDF’s reliance on the reserve forces is more tradition and ideology than what the rules of efficiency would dictate. An army based on reserve forces cannot be a truly professional army. Israel should consider transition to a standing army-based force in which the reserves would be relegated to home-front missions.
Reserve duty is extremely expensive. The tax payer pays for it twice: Once to the reserve soldier and another time for lost days of work. The reserve units’ equipment is stored and managed by the standing army in special IDF warehouses. All these factors lead to the conclusion that expanding the standing army while downsizing the reserves would produce a much more effective military result at a similar price.
And now for the most important point: Transition to a volunteer army. The standing army should be comprised of volunteers. They should receive excellent salaries and a respected place in society. I am certain that the supply will be greater than the demand and will allow the IDF to exact top-notch performance from its top-notch soldiers.
And what about everybody else? Every capable male should be drafted for a short basic training in which he would learn to shoot and perform basic military functions. Yes, every capable male from every sector – with the training appropriate to the needs of the sector. Yeshiva students should be allowed to do the basic training during the break in semesters and in accordance with all the standards of Jewish law. Once every few years, all the basic trainees should be required to do a “refresher” course. These men would be drafted in the most extreme cases of all out war, when they could quickly be trained in more advanced military methods.
In truth, the IDF is already quite volunteer-based. It is no coincidence that most of the dead and wounded from this winter’s Gaza war were Religious Zionists. Those men who do not wish to enlist, already know how to avoid army service. Volunteer enlistment will free us of our obsession with the issue of draft for yeshiva students. If they want, they can enlist. If not, they won’t – just like every other Israeli citizen.
In addition, the volunteer enlistment will eliminate the advantage that Arabs enjoy today in the work market, which they join at the age of 18, while their Jewish counterparts begin their civilian lives three or four years later.
The IDF is an army that we can and should be proud of. Let’s think out of the box to make it even better.