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The legend that the Israel Defense Forces is a people's army in which every good lad is called to arms has been disintegrating over the years. The tasks the army has had to perform have been changing: from defending cease-fire lines and training for war, to serving as a garrison that primarily guards the occupied territories and its interior. It only trains for the major wars - which are becoming a less frequent phenomenon - as a supplemental task.

When Israeli society looks itself in the mirror, it does so from a different perspective than it did 50, 35 or 20 years ago. That is also true of the IDF as it faces the mirror. The sources of manpower from which the IDF draws recruits doing their mandatory military service have changed. The population of career officers is not similar to what it was in previous generations, and reserve duty has in practice become voluntary. Only one in every two potential recruits is actually drafted for mandatory military service; and only one in three who complete their mandatory service continue to serve over the subsequent two decades, or longer if they wish, in the reserves as commanders, pilots, etc.

It was the aspiration six decades ago on the part of the IDF's founders, led by Prime Minister and Defense Minister David Ben-Gurion and IDF Chief of Staff Yigael Yadin, for a transition from routine to an emergency footing and the establishment of a militia of "soldiers on vacation 11 months of the year." The idea that they would be called to arms and then return to the factory and the plow also does not suit the social and economic circumstances of the 21st century.

According to a report Friday by Gili Cohen in Haaretz, the new approach to reserve duty is changing the profile of those ready to take an active part. They are coming more from outlying towns and small communities. There are more university students among them, more of those in need of an income supplement. Days of reserve duty are considered a commodity in short supply, which units must dole out sparingly among its people. The primary consideration is therefore economic, involving implementation of a kind of policy of social justice in uniform.

The IDF lacks consideration, for example, for university students who have been assigned to participate in major military exercises at the same time as final exams are scheduled. True, statistics can be deceiving, because the term "small communities" also includes the kibbutzim and residents of the moshav cooperative farm communities that supplied the old-style IDF with its supply of commanders and reservists. The trend, however, is clear and perhaps also natural. Considerations regarding where and why to do one's IDF service, and for how long, are being done increasingly for selfish reasons, considerations to which the army's commanders and the politicians to whom they report are also subject.