Israel Needs a
Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies
A Professional Army for Israel
Over the years, the model of the "people's army" has been a pillar of the Israeli
national ethos. Yet in the face of the growing skill and expertise needed to meet
Israel's defense needs, it has become an impediment. The Second Lebanon War in
2006 provided evidence of a deficiency, as noted in the Winograd report: "The army
as a whole, failed in meeting its challenge fighting the war in Lebanon and did not
provide the military base for the country to achieve its political aims" in addition to
This situation deprives the citizens of Israel of security forces able to ensure their
survival and prosperity. It also entails a violation of individual rights in the form of
compulsory military service that is without parallel in the Western world.
The belief that a conscription-based army is essential and irreplaceable is a widely
held and deeply rooted convention within both the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and
the public. So deeply rooted is this ethos that it is taken as accepted wisdom by
military intelligentsia, who, like Gen. Gershon Hacohen, commander of IDF's
colleges, hold that this assumption required no empirical verification.
We can determine, even without comprehensive empirical analysis, that there
are not enough talented and high quality Israeli youth who would opt for
military service as a way of life for the number of years it would take to
develop sufficient expertise ….the State of Israel has no viable option other
than that of a people's army.2
However, as this paper will show, empirical evidence does exist which indicates that
the "people's army" concept is not an actual reality. Moreover, attempts to implement
the concept come at the expense of Israel's society and economy on the one hand, as
well as at the expense of the army's professional efficiency. A small minority of
citizens carries the professional burden of core military operations and maintenance
Winograd Commission Report, Chapter 17, section 40, page 545, http://tinurl.com.4300laf
Gen. Gershon Hacohen, Commander of IDF military academies, "Does Israel Still Need a People's
Army?" Shirion, vol. 32, May 2009, http://www.yadlashirion.com.vf.ib_items/1199/32.pdf .
and in the reserve forces; the burden of compulsory conscription leads to a loss of NIS
9 billion each year.
This paper seeks to present the gap between the myth of the "people's army" and the
reality of its hidden costs as opposed to the alternative of a volunteer-based
professional army. A professional army, more befitting a free and democratic society,
would provide the optimal professional solution for meeting Israel's security needs.
The IDF's Personnel Structure
The Israel Defense Forces consists of three components: conscripts performing their
compulsory service, the permanent army forces and the reserves. The compulsory
forces are composed of Jewish Israelis inducted at the age of 18 for a period of 36
months for men (which includes a six month extension under the 30 month law) and
24 months for women. Some who are not required to serve choose to volunteer –
Christians, Druze, Moslems and others. The permanent army consists of those who
serve in specific units and the professionals who, together, comprise the army's
operational and administrative backbone. Finally, army reservists provide a central
resource in the event of emergencies. The law legislates that reservists may be called
to serve 54 days each year, and up to 70 or 84 days for officers or those who fill
specific roles based on security needs. The law applies to discharged soldiers until
they reach the ages of between 40 and 49.3
The scope of compulsory military service in Israel is the longest of military
conscriptions anywhere in the world and its compulsory conscription of women is
without parallel. Based on 2006 figures, an estimated 61,000 men and 58,000 women
reach conscription age each year – for a total of 1,490,000 males between the ages of
16 and 49 fit for compulsory and reserve duty.4 Figures from the International
Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) estimate 176,000 in compulsory service and
445,000 in reserves, for a total of 621,500, as shown in Table 1 below:
Reserve Duty Law, 5768, 2008, http://www.nesset.gov.il/Laws/Data/law/2152/2152.pdf .
Central Intelligence Agency, World Fact Book, Israel, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/theworld-factbook/geos/is/html .
Table 1: IDF Personnel according to IISS figures 2010
Source: International Institute for Strategic Studies, Sept. 2010
Compulsory Service: The Real Numbers
Only around 2% of males serve in combat units during their compulsory service.
Another 20% fill administrative roles, most of them in major military bases far from
the front.5 Of all those intended for compulsory service, 23% are not drafted in the
first place and over 40% of eligible females receive exemptions from military duty,
most on the basis that military service would violate their religious practice.6
Conscription figures from the Chief of Staff's Office of 2002-2005 show the
distribution between male and female conscripts as 59% to 41%. Of these,
approximately 98% are Jewish, the balance Druze, Circasian, Christians and
minorities. Those not conscripted comprise 22-23% in 2001-2003 for males and 38.439.8% for females, as shown in Table 2.7
Alex Fishman, "The IDF's About Face: The Security Agenda on the Way to the Ballot Box," Strategic
Update, vol. 8, no. 4, January 2006, http://www.inss.org.il/upload/(FILE)11953650003.pdf.
The Knesset's Research and Information Center quotes Prof. Cohen's reference to two databases
covering the 1980s and 1990s: 1. data provided by the IDF for the "Army-Society Project" organized
by the Israel Democracy Institute, 2002; 2. data from the State Comptroller's Report, no. 53.
Erez Cohen, Office of the Chief of Staff, Supreme Command, April 22, 2007, cited by Moshe
Baradeh, "Findings on Service in the IDF over the Years," Center for Research and Information, the
Knesset, September, 2007, http://knesset.gov.il/mmm/data/docs/m01870.doc .
Table 2: Non-Conscripts based on year of birth
Reason for exemption – percentages
These figures receive wide coverage in the media but do not tell the full story due to
the fact that they reflect percentages at the date of induction. In fact, the rate of
conscripts who complete their full term of service is far lower.
These data, based on IDF sources8 and presented to the Ben-Bassat Commission,
show that in addition to the 23% of males who are not conscripted in the first place,
another 18% drop out during the course of their service. Findings from the
Commission for Civilian Service in 2005 and adopted by the Government's Ivry
Commission in 2007 indicate that this is a growing trend. The Ivry Commission
reported that some 21,500 of every annual cohort of conscripts are granted
exemptions, 5,000 of whom are male and 16,500 female. The Commission also
reported that some 8,900 depart the army during their first year of service, 7,000 of
them male, the vast proportion of whom due to personal problems and objective
difficulties as well as difficulties in adjustment to a military framework or insufficient
Based on figures from the Office of the IDF Chief of Staff, only 59% of men are in
fact inducted to compulsory service. According to the Sheffer Commission, one out
Commission Examining the Issue of Shortening Compulsory IDF Service, Report, 2006, p. 20
Commission for the Security Budget Report, May 2007, p. 47,
of five will not complete the service to which he was drafted. In addition, due to
conditions which permit a shorter period of service (yeshiva students and new
immigrants are two among ten existing categories) as well as "administrative
discharges" for those whose service the army does not require, most of the 59% who
are inducted do not complete the full 36 month service required by law. From this we
learn that contrary to the ethos of "the people's army," in practice, less than a third of
the men in each draft cohort bear the full burden of compulsory service, and that is
without taking into account the fact that only a minority of conscripts fulfill core
functions within the fighting force.
In addition, some four percent fulfill their duties in the reserves, which can exceed 26
days a year. The issue of reserve duty will be addressed at greater length below.
The Cost of Compulsory Service
The Ben-Bassat Commission's report shows that the total cost of a soldier to the army
during his compulsory service comes to a monthly average of NIS 1,580 (pocket
money, food, medical expenses, payments upon discharge and so on). In sharp
contrast, the Commission pointed to the loss of this same soldier's potential
contribution to the economy of an estimated NIS 3,630 per month.
This situation challenges the image and ideal of those who see the army as a source
technological development and advancement. In using soldiers to fill functions which
are non-essential and unnecessary, compulsory service creates a situation whereby
this supposedly cheap source of labor takes preference over advanced technology and
equipment. The result is a surplus of manpower, a waste of human resources and
wide-scale hidden unemployment within the IDF system.
In attempting to quantify the value of each inductee's period of service in the army,
the Ben-Bassat Commission calculated the estimated salary which a soldier would
earn within the civilian marketplace. Calculations were made on the basis of youth
aged 18 to 24 who had completed 12 years of education and included all aspects of
their earnings, such as taxes deducted at source or pension funds. The result was a
monthly wage of NIS 5,173, which is lower that the average Israeli salary.
If one were to take factors such as the costs of interrupting one's career into account,
or postponing education, accumulating work seniority, not to mention the
compensation which a soldier would earn for the "overtime" he puts in during the
army, the real cost of these 176,500 draftees is an annual NIS 90 million.
The Brodet Commission's estimate of the cumulative annual loss includes the loss of
potential production of some NIS 11 billion, which represents 1.7% of the GDP,
based on 2006 figures.10 These figures also reflect the findings of a public
commission led by Dr. Leora Meridor in the mid 1990s, according to which the
estimated loss of productivity to the market as a whole during that period equates to
1.7% of productivity. Based on these findings, the Ministry of Finance estimated loss
of productivity in 2009 at some NIS 9 billion.11
Reserve duty brings the gap between the myth of the "people's army" and reality in
particularly sharp relief. In addition to the burden it places on the marketplace,
reserve duty endangers Israel's security by calling unskilled and insufficiently trained
citizens to perform work for which they are inadequately prepared. This makes the
State unable to achieve the strategic goals defined by its leaders or to provide the
protection and deterrence necessary to ensure its existence.
The model for reserve duty was designed in the early days of the State of Israel in
order to make forces available in case of enemy attack. It has not been revised since
then, despite changes in the scope and nature of threats to Israel's security. These
changes include "low-grade war," terror and guerilla warfare, technological
developments, changes in ideologies and the concentration of attacks to the home
front, as well as a shifting sense of security and unity among the civilian population.
Commission for the Security Budget Report, May 2007, p. 47,
Ministry of Finance, 2009-2010 Budget Highlights, p. 89.
According to foreign publications, reserve duty forces in 2010 numbered 445,00012
and in 2000, the number was estimated at 425,000. IDF sources show only 200,000
reservists in 2000, serving up to three days, in activities that were not connected to
either training exercises or to combat duty.13
In that same year, only some 100,000 served upwards of four days of reserve duty, or
12% of the total population of male Jews between the ages of 21 and 45. Out of
1,085,000 men in this age range, only 35,000 served 26 days or more of reserve duty
in the year 2000. This represents 4% of the male Jewish population, which includes
those who serve between 50 and 70 days (mostly commanders).14 These figures come
as no surprise to professionals who examined the issue of reserve military duty.
According to Brig. Gen. (Res.) Amatzia Hen, compulsory service is meant to provide
the training for reserve duty, yet, as stated earlier, less than 4% of reservists maintain
adequate fitness and fulfill their entire reserve duty.15 Those 32,000 who serve 26
days or more of reserve duty comprise 0.95% of the general population,16 a figure
which underscores the gap between the egalitarian image of the "people's army" and
reality when it comes to reserve duty.
The Permanent Army
Members of the permanent army generally serve until their retirement at the relatively
young average age of 46. This short period of work within the army and their early
retirement place a heavy burden on the marketplace. IDF pensions rose from NIS 1.5
billion in the early 1990s to over NIS 4 billion in 2008 and are projected to exceed
NIS 5 billion before long. This represents an annual growth of some NIS 200 million,
as shown in Figure 1.
International Institute for Strategic Studies, September 2010,
Nevo Baruch and Yael Shor, "An Army of All Its People?" Israel Democracy Institute, 2002, p. 12
Telephone conversation with Amatzia Hen, September 22, 2010. In 1986, Brig. Gen Hen was
appointed to prepare a plan to reform the reserve duty system by the Office of the Chief of Staff. The
program was prepared during that year under the supervision of then Deputy Chief of Staff Ehud
Barak, with representatives of all branches of the IDF, and was presented to Chief of Staff Dan
Shomron but never implemented.
The population of men and women aged 20 – 64 in 2000 numbered 3,375.9 thousand. Central
Bureau of Statistics, Summary Chart A, Base Population of 2000,
Figure 1: Projected pension budget for the permanent army
(In millions of NIS at 2010 values)
Source: Ministry of Finance, Proposed State Budget for F/Y 2009-2010,
The Brodet Commission noted that IDF pension payments accounted for 9% of the
defense budget in 2006, and that the actuarial commitment to defense forces retirees
by the end of 2006 was NIS 160 billion in budgeted pension, yet without specific
financial allocations for this purpose.17 Future pension costs are not reflected in the
army's operating budget, which enables these true costs to be overlooked.
The Brodet Commission found that the permanent army system requires both an
overall administrative upgrade and reduction in personnel by means such as raising
the rate of retirement. The Commission recommended reducing permanent army staff
by 10% between 2008 and 2012 and by another 7.5% in the five years to follow.
The Security Budget
The Ministry of Defense budget for 2010 is 53.2 billion shekels, which comprises
15.6% of the total State budget product.18 The Defense budget includes: equipment
and operational expenses (salaries, food, maintenance), pension and payments to
bereaved families, costs covering rehabilitation, which are carried by the Ministry,
Commission examining the Security Budget, Report.
Ministry of Finance, Budget Highlights 2009-2010, p. 77.
such as covering rehabilitation or to bereaved families, and expenses related to the not
directly related to military operations, such as the security barrier.
Figure 2 – Security consumption in relation to GDP (1960 – 2009)
Percentage of local security consumption in relation to GDP
Percentage of security consumption in relation to GDP
Source: Shmuel Even, Israel's defense Expenses, Data and Significance, Strategic Update,
January 2010, www.inss.org.il/upload/(FILE)/1266831113.pdf
The defense budget is the largest of all government ministries. It is modest compared
to that of the 1980s, which brought Israel's economy to the brink of collapse, but is
considerably higher than defense budgets typical of OECD countries, which are
generally 2.5% of the GDP.19 United States assistance, which is incorporated into this
budget, amounted to some $2.7 billion in 2010, or approximately 20% of it. (The
budget includes income from the sale of equipment and from the vacating of IDF
bases, which came to NIS 2.4 billion in F/Y 2010. At the same time, this state
accounting does not include the Mossad or Shabak, the General Security Services).
The Ben-Bassat Commission
The Ben-Bassat Commission, charged with examining the question of a reduction in
the period of compulsory military service, was appointed by Minister of Defense
Shaul Mofaz on July 11, 2005 and submitted its findings on January 31, 2006.
The World Bank, Military Expenditure (% of GDP), World Development Indicators 2009,
Despite the fact that it operated under assumptions of favoring the model of the
"people's army" model, the Commission recognized that "the scope of personnel in
compulsory service exceeds actual requirements, considering the military technology
which is available and ongoing security operations." 20
The Commission noted the heavy burden posed by a lengthy compulsory service and
the option of replacing it with an alternate source of military personnel or through
technological innovations, outsourcing services and permanent army. It examined the
economic burden which the compulsory draft places on the economy, social tension
which can result from prolonged compulsory service, motivation to serve in the army,
global trends in the armies of other Western countries, as well as qualitative indices in
terms of the freedoms of young Israeli citizens which are not given to quantification.
The Ben-Bassat Commission noted a universal trend of decreasing the length of
compulsory service in Western countries or eliminating the draft entirely. This trend
stems largely from social and ideological factors, on personal liberty claiming a
higher priority and on a declining support for the use of armed force.
Technological innovations change the nature of threats and military objectives when a
military outcome is determined less by the quantity of soldiers than by their level of
professional skill and the defensive tools at their disposal. The Commission stated
that economics form a central factor in this trend:
The removal of an entire age cohort from the work force comes at a cost to the
society. This a cost includes the rapid turnover of those in compulsory service
and the cost of their training [as opposed to] the relatively higher efficiency of
a professional army and the growing need for the army to invest in
sophisticated weaponry – all in the face of budgets that are static or being cut
The Commission found that the "people's army" ethos, based on compulsory universal
conscription, solidarity and equal opportunity to realize one's potential in both
Ben-Bassat Commission Report, p. 31. "The Commission operates under the assumption that
Israel's army must be based upon compulsory service," is the sentence which opens the chapter dealing
with the principles of establishing the length of service, which formed the basis of the Commission's
Commission Examining the Issue of Shortening Compulsory IDF Service, Report, 2006, p. 18.
performance and compensation, does not exist in fact. Its conclusions were of no
surprise to top IDF leadership, familiar as they were with the Sheffer Commission and
its 2002 examination of the compulsory draft.
The Gen. Gideon Sheffer Commission
The Commission to examine the issue of compulsory service, headed by Gen (Res.)
Gideon Sheffer was appointed by Gen. Gil Regev, Head of IDF Human Resources in
2002. Operating as an internal military commission, its findings were not brought to
the country's political leadership for public debate. The Commission included civilian
experts as well as key military personnel, and was endorsed by the Head of IDF
The Sheffer Commission looked at the issue of compulsory conscription in relation to
social and cultural trends in the IDF and in Israeli society as a whole, as well as costs
to the Israeli economy as well as to the military and IDF human resources. The
Commission identified significant changes in compulsory conscription related to
some of its most basic principles.
The most prominent of these changes related to the principle of universality, meaning
that service is compulsory for all, with exemptions granted on an individual basis
(other than Arabs, who are exempted as a group). However, there are more and more
deviations from this principle, due to beliefs and values, such as the neo-liberal or
rights ethos, which are at odds with the general ethos.
The Commission revealed that in effect, the IDF does not operate according to the
principle of a "people's army," reflected in "differentiation," that is, the streaming of
inductees to different roles based on the length of their service and matching the
length of service with IDF needs. Examples of "differentiation" include the different
The Sheffer Commission's members consisted of the civilians Dr, Yaacov Sheinin, Dr. Reuven Gal,
Dr. Neri Horvitz, Lt. Col. (Res.) Ilan Levine, Att'y Eyal Nun; from the IDF: Col. Avi Zamir (Head of
Human Resources Support Unit), Brig. Gen. Reuven First ( ,)רחמ"א אט"לCol. Moshe Lippel (Head of
Budgeting for the Advisor to ,)כ"לCol. Yehudit Grisaro (Head of תו"מUnit, IAF), Col. Ofra Ben
Yishai (Head of ,)ממד"הCol. Shirley Karni (Deputy to the Advisor to the Chief of Staff for Women),
Col. Hadas Ben Eliyahu (Head of Research for ,)ממד"הCol. Anat Kedem ( רע"ן מימ"דto the Advisor to
the Chief of Staff for Women), Maj. Oshrat Romano, Maj. Alon Solomon, Cap. Rina Moshe (Head of
Research Unit for the Compulsory Army for .)ממד"ה
lengths of service for men and women, between combat soldiers, technicians and
academic deferrals, positions centered on guard duty or special populations. It also
takes compensation levels into account – pocket money which ranges according to
level of activity, payments for benefits such as for combat fighters, or funds for
soldiers discharged upon completion of their service.
The Commission pointed out that over the years, additional forms of compensation,
such as mortgage assistance, tax benefits and university scholarships for discharged
soldiers have come to be considered an inseparable and indispensible element of
Israel's social service network.
The Commission voiced the opinion that these "differentiations" could act to ease
some of the pressures exerted by individuals and groups with respect to length of
service (conscientious objectors, the ultra-Orthodox and others). It could also
improve professionalism and professional expertise, service and product quality,
together with accumulated professional knowledge, in both appearance and in fact.
The Sheffer Commission's recommendations state that all such differentiations should
offer compensation commensurate with the level of service, with outright preference
to those who serve in combat units and officers.
In its summary remarks, the Commission concluded that the differentiation process
brings considerable benefits for the compulsory army and brings credit to the IDF as
an efficient and economically-minded organization. According to the Commission,
this approach should be firmly established by changing the compulsory draft laws and
investing more resources into personnel.23
In late 2010, Germany and Poland announced major reforms to their armed services
and to end compulsory conscription. The goal of the changes was to improve their
armies' professional capabilities, to adapt them to the demands of modern warfare as
well as international cooperation. Poland's Minister of Defense noted that only a
The Commission suggested various alternatives to the current situation including a recommendation
to decrease the number of those in compulsory service by 35% to 48%.
professional army could deal with the challenges posed by global terror and the wars
This reinforced a growing trend in favor of a volunteer-based army, already
implemented in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Spain, the Netherlands,
Belgium and Italy, which all cancelled or dramatically reduced military conscription.
A study conducted in 2006 by the Labor Research Institute in Germany (IZA)
regarding the draft in OECD countries showed that true to the projections of
economic theorists, the draft causes static inefficiency, disrupts the accumulation of
human and material capital. Compared to the economies of countries with volunteer
armies, those with conscription-based armies have a lower GNP.25 Findings for
OECD countries show that the draft has negative effects and that volunteer
professional armies lead to increased production of 1% to 5%. The same effect was
noted in countries which offer alternative forms of national and community service.
These international studies indicate that the more a country relies on a conscriptionbased army, the lower its efficiency and preparedness, as illustrated in Figure 3.
A study commissioned by the CES Institute in Munich examined the ongoing related
costs of the draft and reached the same conclusion, noting that it is a myth that
conscription armies provide a social solution and cheap labor. "For economists," the
study states, "this finding should not be surprising, since recruiting volunteers from
the job market is traditionally considered a more effective method of profiting from
the distribution of work and expertise." 26
Roman Prister, Dana Harman, New York Times, "Europe Gives Up Compulsory Draft," Haaretz,
October 27, 2010. http://www.haaretz.co.il/hasite/spages/1186658.html
Katarina Keller, Panu Poutvaara, Andreas Wagener, Military Draft and Economic Growth in OECD
Countries, Discussion Paper No. 2022 (2006), http://ftp.iza.org/dp2022.pdf .
Morten Lau, Panu Poutvaara and Andreas Wagener, The Dynamic Cost of the Draft, CESIFO
working paper No. 774, September 2002, http://tinyurl.com/38rn817 .
Figure 3: Efficiency and military readiness based on work force
(Conscripts, permanent and reserves)
Source: Panu Poutvaara and Andreas Wagener, The Political Economy of Conscription
(2009), adapted from Karl Haltiner (1998), http://ftp.iza.org/dp4429.pdf
A Harvard University study focused on the implications of the draft for the future
income of those drafted, whose entry into professional life was delayed. It showed
that their wages remained some 8% lower for an average period of nine years from
the completion of their service. According to these findings, one year of compulsory
military service was equivalent to the loss of two years of job experience.27
The Israeli model of reserve duty presents an additional problem and an even greater
difficulty when it comes to military preparedness. Calling up reserve forces adds
pressure to the atmosphere in Israel, often in a state of tension, which can lead to
unintended results. Israeli leaders, aware of this problem, have on more than one
occasion delayed calling in reservists in order to avoid creating increased tension,
with fateful consequences, as in the case of the Yom Kippur War.
Imbens, Guido and Wilbert van der Klaauw, "Evaluating the Cost of Conscription in the
Netherlands," Journal of Business and Economic Statistics, 13(1995),
Suicide in the Army
One of the most tragic and heavy costs of the "people's army" ethos and universal
conscription is that of suicides. The combinations of the difficulties of living within a
military framework and access to weapons led the Inter-Ministerial Commission for
Suicide Prevention to define soldiers as a "high risk" group. The Commission's
findings showed an average of 35 suicides a year in the IDF, meaning one every 10 to
14 days.28 As of July, 2010, 19 soldiers had committed suicide in the current year.29
According to the Brodet Commission, some 27% of IDF casualties in 2005 were
suicides (see Figure 4). Due to its social, many of the numbers are hidden by listing
the cause of death as "accidental" or "other."
Figure 4: Distribution of IDF casualties in 2004
Source: Brodet Commission on the Defense Budget, Report, p. 117.
Dr. Yarden Katzir, who served as a mental health officer, researched suicides in the
IDF as part of his doctoral dissertation. He noted:
Inter-Ministerial Commission for Suicide Prevention, "Preventing Suicide among Children and
Youth in the State of Israel," presentation, http://www.moia.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/4BEDD985-940846D9-BE76-6107C6721C8C/0/SuisidePrevention.ppt
Hanan Greenberg, "Concern in the IDF Regarding Numbers of Suicides," Ynet, July 7, 2010,
The distinguishing characteristics between suicidal and non-suicidal soldiers
lies in how they experience and deal with the pressures of their soldier's
adjustments to the new army environment: his treatment by his commanders,
relations with the soldiers in his unit, invasion of privacy, wearing the
uniform. The same issues came up with soldiers who sought counseling from
the mental health officer. Thus, inter-personal pressures stem from the
soldier's difficulty in adapting to his new environment. Induction into the
army places numerous pressures on a young conscript which he must address
Psychologist Benny Marom works with the army as a researcher to prevent suicides
among soldiers and notes that there are an average of 35 cases a year. "This aspect is
largely erased from public discussion. Of the 21,000 casualties who fell since the
establishment of the State, it is quite possible that almost 10% of them, or 1,500, were
These figures show that the number one cause of death in the IDF, for years in which
there are no wars, is suicide. One may surmise that if everyone who served in the
army had chosen to be there, there would be fewer who were unsuitable, and fewer
Violation of Individual Freedom
They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety,
deserve neither liberty nor safety.
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
Although rarely addressed, many have noted that the universal conscription law
entails a profound violation of those conscripts' individual freedom. This violation
has become less acceptable in Israeli society than in the past. The Sheffer
Commission noted that "another factor disturbing [the IDF's exclusive management of
society's human resources] is that of rights, and questioning the army's monopoly over
the individual's right to act according to his conscience."32 The Ben-Bassat
Dr. Yarden Katzir, "Suicide in the IDF," 2005, study conducted at Bar-Ilan University under the
supervision of Prof. David Tzuriel, http://www.hebpsy.net/articles.asp?id=543
Benny Marom, quoted by Moran Zelikovic, "Jewish Men's Suicides Triple Arabs'," Ynet, September
4, 2004, http://ynet.co.il/articles/0.7340.L-2973102.00.html
Sheffer Commission Report on Compulsory Service, Summary, Section 12.3.
Commission, too, identified the factors of "external elements connected to the welfare
of youth and their freedom which are unquantifiable."33
Of all state intrusions into individual rights, conscription into the military is the most
drastic in that is stands contrary to the most fundamental of individual rights – the
right to live. Denying or jeopardizing this right during one's most formative years
epitomizes Statist principles (elevating the State to uppermost priority). Liberal
thought, on the other hand, recognizes the individual's right to life and to property as
basic and independent of the State. Elevation of the State to a supreme priority, to
which thousands of Israeli youth are exposed during their army service, is in direct
opposition to the outlook which they require as sovereign, independent, free and
The justification for compulsory service arose from within the context of a state of
emergency with the society's very survival at stake. This situation led to the
establishment of the IDF, which stated at the time that compulsory conscription would
take place only in the event of emergency.34 However, as this paper demonstrates, the
bulk of compulsory service falls upon a minority of youth who are called upon to
serve for 36 months and on less than 4% of the Jewish male population for reserve
duty. This situation calls into question the claim that the absence of the draft would
lead to a shortage in manpower into question. Under the current situation, there is a
surplus of conscripts. The efforts to strengthen the image of an egalitarian army lead
to a waste of money and resources and harm the country's security. This situation has
led to the growing number of voices who call for channeling compulsory service into
national civilian service.35 The numbers show that on can build a professional
Public Opinion Survey about the IDF
Commission on the Issue of Shortening Compulsory IDF Service, Report, p. 9.
Section 2 in the directive to establish the IDF states: "Compulsory conscription to all branches of the
IDF is to be enacted in a state of emergency." May 26, 1948.
The growing trends to replace military service with a civilian alternative are based on the
assumption that the relationship between the state and the individual is that of social rights as opposed
to "compulsory service." Even if there is no cause to draft individuals into the army, it would be right
to create a framework through which they could contribute through different kinds of work and thereby
preserve the ideological ethos not connected to the army's needs.
The Jerusalem Institute for Market Research conducted a longitudinal survey which
tracked public opinion regarding the economy and society. The most recent survey,
conducted in May, 2010 through the Dahaf Institute interviewed 992 people who
composed a representative sample of the adult Jewish Israeli population. Its questions
addressed their positions regarding the army, their confidence in its authority, as well
as their positions regarding compulsory service, professionalism and draft evaders.
The following highlights a number of the central questions and the significant
When asked whether they agreed with the statement that "the army should hire
civilians to replace reservists in non-combat roles," the tendency was to respond
positively. Out of a total of 85.7% who answered either positively or negatively,
42.27% agreed as opposed to 38.51% who disagreed.
To the statement, "in order to increase the defense budget, non-combat activities
should be handed to private companies, for example, food services, laundry, auto
mechanics, cleaning and maintenance, etc.," 85% of respondents who had an opinion
in the matter, of whom 55.65% agreed or strongly agreed and 29.24% disagreed. See
Figure 5: Opinion on IDF outsourcing
Based on these responses, there seems to be relatively wide recognition among the
public that outsourcing would improve and increase efficiency in professions which
are not at the core of military activity. At the same time, when asked their opinion
about the statement, "Israel should strive toward a volunteer-based army like the
Unite States and end compulsory draft," the "people's army ethos" regarding
compulsory service remains firm. Of the 92.45% of respondents who held an opinion,
18.35% agreed and 74.1% disagreed.
Figure 6: Transforming the IDF into a volunteer army
with no compulsory draft
The survey also examined to what degree the Israeli public would be willing to enact
social sanctions against draft evaders. When asked, "If a young person refuses to be
drafted into the army, are you in favor or against employers not hiring them a job for
that reason?" 96.27% of those surveyed responded, with 50% in favor and 46.27%
These questions reflect a growing recognition and readiness among the public to
improve the IDF's efficiency through outsourcing, and that despite the wide support
for the "people's army" model, there was much less support for the idea of sanctioning
those who oppose that model.
Despite indications within this survey that the majority of Israelis recognize the need
to improve the army's efficiency and outsource activities which are not directly
connected to core defense matters, there is a "politically correct" outlook from which
few depart. This outlook leaves the "people's army" as a given. Most Israelis speak
about it and want it to remain despite the fact that it does not actually exist. This wish
has led to the proposal of a number of reforms which begin with the message that we
cannot abandon the "people's army" model, while on one level or another, they
recommend a move to a more professional and selective levels of service and
Contrary to the deeply rooted convention that the model of a "people's army" based on
a universal draft is inviolable, this model does not exist in fact. Only 59% of males of
draft age are inducted and complete their allotted term of duty36 while fewer that half
of them complete the full 36 months (due to various arrangements and abbreviated
terms). An average of 8,900 drop out of army service during their first year (7,000 of
whom are men) due to a range of problems, mostly related to their adjustment and
motivation. The remaining population forms the basis of the reserve duty force. The
rate of those who fulfill the full reserve duty required of them is 4% of the male
Jewish population. If one compares the number of those who complete their reserve
duty to the full Israeli population of working age, the rate is even lower: 1%.
Placing the major share of Israel's security on a small section of the population creates
discrimination between those who shoulder the majority of the full burden of military
service without fitting compensation and the remainder of the population who "don't
serve." This splintering has transformed army service from a unifying "melting pot"
into a source of division and contention. In addition, it leads to initiatives for
"corrective" legislation which distort equality before the law for all Israeli citizens.
Drafting a superfluous amount of soldiers to compulsory service throws off efficiency
estimates and delays deployment of advanced technologies and their effective use.
One could operate a professional army and pay those who serve a wage
commensurate to their skills for the equivalent of NIS 90 million a year. This,
combined with discharging personnel who bring no added value to the army and/or
who would not be interested in serving under the new model, thus changing the
principle of the universal conscription, stand to greatly improve the quality of
personnel, bring efficiency to IDF operations, solve problems neglected surplus
As stated above, findings which IDF sources presented to the Ben-Bassat Commission showed that
in addition to 23% of males who are not drafted to begin with, another 18% exit the army during their
term of duty.
manpower by releasing them to the job market. This added system efficiency is
estimated to contribute an annual NIS 9 billion (1.7% of the GDP) to the system.
In addition to all this, according to Brig. Gen. (Res.) Amatzia Hen (who, as noted,
developed a reform plan to activate reserve forces in the General Staff), under the
present system, reserve forces who lack sufficient training and expertise, risk failure
and risks loss of life in battle and place impediments to meeting Israel's military
Thus, the idea of the "people's army," supported by those who call for reinforcing
compulsory conscription by including additional segments of Israeli society (the ultraOrthodox, draft evaders and women who do not currently serve) serves neither Israel's
security needs nor the army's, harms Israel's economic resilience and conflicts with
the principles of a free society.