IDF Expanding Net of Recruits - but 1 in 6 Won't Finish Service

Using imperfect screening processes, the army is recruiting people who would previously not have passed the so-called draft threshold. Can the IDF, with its 'blue-collar' contingent, be called an 'army of the people'?

IDF Nahal Brigade soldiers in training.
IDF Spokesman's Office

The Israel Defense Forces is drafting soldiers who would not have qualified for military service until recently – a move that some experts say does not necessarily help either the army or the inductees.

By expanding its induction policy to include these individuals, the IDF reasons, the army is offering them a chance to succeed in life in the future because military service is often seen as a stepping-stone to decent job opportunities.

But sociologists and other experts claim that many young people with social-adjustment difficulties are unable to complete their service. Indeed, one out of every six draftees does not complete his or her service, whether due to psychological or physical problems, or to the inductee’s lack of suitability to the army or to the specific role assigned them; in addition, the tools by which draftees are screened and classified are outmoded or even skewered to benefit certain groups, according to some experts.

With regard to combat soldiers, IDF data show that soldiers sent to such units who scored low in the personal interviews conducted by psychological diagnosticians when they receive their initial draft notice, tend not to complete their service as combat soldiers. According to the army's figure, 66 percent of the combat soldiers drafted in 2003 who received a low score of between 8 and 11 in their preliminary interview (40 being the highest possible grade), completed their service in combat roles. However, among soldiers who were drafted seven years later in 2010 and received a low score, just 28 percent completed their service in combat.

Of the soldiers who in 2003 received a high score of between 36 and 40 in the pre-induction interview, 78 percent completed their combat service; in 2010, 89 percent of those who attained this score completed service in such units.

Poor classification tools

According to Dr. Eyal Efrati, IDF chief of behavioral sciences from 2004 to 2008, the army has turned military service itself into a tool for classifying people: Those who are suited to the military framework remain; others are ejected. Efrati says the army does not invest enough in the selection process, especially compared to the investment in the training they undergo in order to fulfill their military roles.

The investigative television show “Hamakor” this year revealed the characteristics assessed in the initial personal interview, among them: promptness, precision, pro-activeness, adaptability to frameworks, social skills, independence and motivation for combat service. But according to the data reported there, which was provided by the army, it turns out that draftees who receive a low score – which according to the IDF means they are not suited to combat service – are placed in combat units anyway. And few finish their service.

The IDF declined to provide Haaretz with details about the link between classification and the dropout rate from the army.

Figures that show the chances of a soldier completing his or her army service based on their ranking after a battery of  intelligence and psychological tests known by the Hebrew acronym “Kaba,” and administered during the initial call-up process, reveal a similar picture. Of the soldiers drafted a decade ago, 92.8 percent of those receiving a Kaba classification of 56, the highest score, completed their service (usually the scores are kept secret). Among soldiers who received that grade in 2010, the service-completion rate was even higher: 95 percent. However, only 54 percent of soldiers who were drafted in 2003 and received a low grade (i.e., of 43), completed their service, while a decade later, that figure had declined to 48 percent.

According to the IDF, these figures actually show the reliability of the army’s selection process. But experts in fields related to the psychological and social processes involved in such selection have been saying for years that the pre-induction psychometric tests, which examine the inductees’ background and not necessarily their character traits, is old-fashioned. The IDF does conduct some special screening processes among inductees for certain army jobs, but apparently does not draw the appropriate conclusions in some cases – even in the realm of combat-support roles, as it once did. The reasons for this are budgetary, according to an officer in the IDF Manpower Directorate.

Theoretically, the results of the pre-induction screening processes determine who will succeed and who will not, the officer added. “The higher the score, the less the chance of problems in service,” she added.

But experts say, for example, that the psychometric tests and interviews are not suitable, for example, for assessing draftees of Ethiopian origin.

Dr. Zeev Lehrer, a military sociologist who wrote his Ph.D. on the history of the Kaba of Israelis of Ashkenazi and Mizrahi descent, explains that, “Placement is made by means of these results in a very hierarchical manner – those who received high grades go to 'high' roles, those who received low grades go to the 'second' army – the blue-collar army, all the parts with no glory, only discipline. ”

Lehrer explains that the connection between the Kaba and the army dropout rate is clear, “because the army created the connection by sending these soldiers to fulfill these functions. When one wants to examine a selection tool properly, one is supposed to scatter people randomly [in various units].” Thus, he says, the army cannot use the figures it has to prove that its selection tools are credible because in a sense it may be inadvertently "setting up" certain soldiers to fail by placing them in certain roles.

More problems 'at home'

According to the Manpower Directorate officer, dropout rates have increased over the years because of the change in the army’s draft policies. “The army is the biggest 'social worker' in the country and the price paid is the dropout rate. Dropping out is a function of whom is drafted, what conditions they are given during their services and under what conditions they are released," she explains.

Says another senior officer in the directorate: “I lack good soldiers, and I have more and more individuals with problems at home and other problems.”

The IDF concedes that it is broadening the scope of its inductee pool, recruiting some 1,200 soldiers a year who have only 11 years of schooling, or even less. Each year there are some 2,100 inductees defined as “at-risk youth.” At the same time, the army will decide not to draft certain young people based on various criteria under the “draft threshold,” which changes from time to time. This threshold is apparently being lowered, with young people who in the past would have been rejected donning IDF uniforms.

The data show how the threshold in question fluctuates. In 2014, 3.5 percent of men eligible for the draft were rejected because they had a criminal record or otherwise did not meet that threshold. Two years ago, that figure was 2.8 percent, while a decade ago 4 percent were rejected. For women, the draft threshold has also dropped: In 2004, 3.4 percent of women were not drafted due to a criminal record or because they did not meet the minimal threshold, while a decade later, only 0.8 percent were rejected for these reasons.

Senior Manpower Directorate officers concede that the draft threshold has been lowered to allow the drafting of more young people. Still, one senior officer said, the IDF does not induct convicted sex offenders.

“The IDF is the army of the people, but it really does not need everyone,” says Efrati. "There are too many people who do not make the best use of their time in the army. They understand they are doing insignificant service, they are not benefiting from the army and the army is not benefiting from them.”

Lehrer also criticizes the current induction model: “The army does everything to appear to conduct universal draft. It needs this because this gives legitimacy to the obligatory draft of the individuals in the population whom it does want.” But the army, he says, is doing a disservice by applying this model to a very broad group – for example, even young people at risk.

The Manpower Directorate officer says she “wants to believe that those who serve come out with [a positive] life experience,” adding that the success of the soldier demands a certain price from the system and the surroundings. One could decide not to draft less suitable candidates, she says, by making the economic consideration greater but, she insists, "we are the army of the people.”

Yet data show that the army is changing all the time, to the point where today it is no longer truly the “army of the people.”

“The figures cast a heavy shadow," Lehrer admits. "Do all such groups really benefit the army?”