IDF to Draft Civilians to Maintain Bulldozers in Battle

Conscription of Caterpillar mechanics marks first drafting of staff of private firm in wartime.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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The Israel Defense Forces is planning to draft civilian bulldozer-maintenance personnel for reserve duty, marking the first time the army will be conscripting the staff of a private firm in wartime.

Although the Armament Corps is generally responsible for maintaining combat vehicles, much of the work on the Caterpillar D9 armored bulldozer is being done by the company that represents Caterpillar in Israel because it is so complex. But as civilians, company staff have not been allowed onto the front lines. A deal in the works would give the maintenance staff the status of reservist soldiers, who would then be able to fix the machines during combat if necessary.

"We work with the IDF very closely," said Yossi Smira, director of Zoko Shiluvim, which owns the Israeli company that supplies the armored bulldozer. "During Operation Cast Lead and before, during the Second Lebanon War, our staff essentially volunteered, and were nearly at the front in order to care for the equipment. Sometimes they risked their lives."

The D9 is made by Caterpillar in the United States, but the IDF version is procured from ITE, a local company that sells tractors and other such equipment.

The D9 undergoes major changes for use by the army, including the installation of a position for a heavy machine gun and a bulletproof cabin for the driver.

In recent years, Caterpillar has been severly criticized by pro-Palestinian groups because of the use the IDF is making of the D9. The IDF has been using the bulldozers since the mid-1980s, to pave the way for armored columns through heavily fortified areas. The bulldozers are also used to prepare protective ramparts for IDF forces inside enemy territory.

The army has made extensive use of the bulldozers in razing homes in the Gaza Strip, as it did in this winter's Operation Cast Lead, though they are deployed on all fronts. The IDF has hundreds such bulldozers in its arsenal.