IDF Warns of Shortage in Soldiers if Service Term Reduced

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A Knesset committee voted Monday to shorten compulsory army service for men by four months, but rejected the army’s main proposal on how to make up the loss of manpower.

As a result, the Israel Defense Forces says it will soon face a shortfall of some 9,300 soldiers – a shortage the committee ordered it to propose new ways of solving within two days, by this Wednesday.

The Shaked committee, headed by MK Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi), is preparing a sweeping revision of the enlistment law. The bill’s primary aim is to draft ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students, but it also includes various other changes.

One of those, which the committee approved Monday, will shorten compulsory service for men from 36 months to 32. But the panel rejected the IDF’s proposal to compensate for this loss by increasing compulsory service for women from 24 to 28 months. And the army’s other two proposals look likely to suffer a similar fate.

Not all Shaked committee members were happy with Monday’s decision. One, MK Moti Yogev (Habayit Hayehudi), assailed the shortening of men’s service as “an unprofessional and irresponsible decision that will translate into a severe shortage” of manpower and undermine the IDF’s “ability to do its job of protecting the people of Israel and the State of Israel.”

Yogev accused Yesh Atid — the leading proponent of the new enlistment bill — of “putting the value of equality ahead of the value of defense,” warning: “We will yet cry over” this decision.

But Yesh Atid’s chairman, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, praised the decision at a meeting of his Knesset faction Monday. Noting that shortened service for men had been part of his party’s platform, he said the change was needed.

“This is a necessary move that many in the defense establishment support,” he said. “The principle is simple: Everyone needs to serve. Everyone needs to work and support themselves. And in another month from today” — when the Knesset is slated to vote on the bill in its final reading — “that will be the situation.”

After noting that “91 percent of the Haredim who have enlisted in the army joined the workforce afterward,” Lapid added, “Our job as a state is to help them [do so]. It’s right and proper, and the Israeli middle class no longer can, and in any case shouldn’t have to, pay other people’s bills.

“I understand the anger and fear that the law arouses among the Haredi public; changes aren’t easy. But I ask them to remember one thing: We aren’t against them, we’re brothers. And we must learn to live [together] anew, with the same rights and the same obligations.”

The army predicts that shorter service for men will result in the following losses: 400 officers, 250 soldiers in intelligence, 1,500 in administrative positions, 1,500 in technical jobs, 1,400 in various courses, 550 drivers and, the biggest hit of all, 3,700 combat soldiers.

A position paper submitted to the Knesset by the IDF’s Personnel Directorate in May, with backing from IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, said shortened service for men would be possible only if several conditions were met, since otherwise the army would suffer a severe manpower shortage. As a senior officer said at the time, the IDF’s proposal constituted “a package deal that necessitates several conditions before we can implement it for recruits in 2015.”

One of these conditions was extending compulsory service for women. A second was getting a significant number of Haredim to serve. And the third was lengthening service for students in hesder yeshivas. Hesder is a five-year program that combines Torah study with army service, but less than 18 months of that time is spent in the army.

But on Monday, the Shaked committee rejected lengthening service for women. It had earlier decided to extend service for hesder students by just one month, to 17 months, and seems unlikely to revisit that decision. And while ultra-Orthodox enlistment is expected to gradually increase as a result of the new law, it is slated to hit a level of some 5,000 men per year only in 2016, though the cut in compulsory service for men is expected to start in July 2015.

Moreover, according to data presented to the committee by Brig. Gen. Gadi Agmon, shortening compulsory service for men by four months will cost the army the equivalent of about 9,300 soldiers, meaning that even 5,000 Haredi recruits a year wouldn’t compensate.

The balance was supposed to have come from extending service for women, which the army predicted would add the equivalent of 4,700 female soldiers, including 1,200 in combat units.

Instances of IDF soldiers stealing munitions to sell to criminals are few, but worrying.Credit: Gil Eliahu
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz with MK Ayelet Shaked.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Ultra-Orthodox soldier at IDF recruitment base.Credit: Moti Milrod

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