IDF: Suicide Is the Primary Cause of Death Among Israeli Soldiers

According to IDF data, in the past three years, suicide has claimed more soldiers’ lives than operational activity, accidents or illness; most of the suicide victims served in the home front.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

The primary cause of death among soldiers serving in the Israel Defense Forces is suicide, according to an analysis of data covering the past three years. In 2011, the most recent year for which official army data is available, 21 soldiers took their own lives – more than the number of soldiers who died as a result of disease, traffic accidents, operational activity or other calamities.

In 2011, 15 soldiers died in traffic accidents, two in the course of operational activity and 12 as a result of disease. Six additional soldiers died in accidents that the army describes as “other” – meaning training and similar accidents.

In 2010, more soldiers committed suicide than those who died due to other circumstances, including traffic accidents and disease. According to the army’s statistics, 28 soldiers took their lives in 2010, 14 soldiers died in traffic accidents and 10 from disease.

In 2009, suicide was the number one reason for death in the IDF: 20 soldiers committed suicide, almost double the number of soldiers who died in the course of operational activity.

Publication of these findings comes following an appeal last April by the Movement for Freedom of Information, through the Clinic for Freedom of Information at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya. Army sources at first claimed that a response to the petition would necessitate “an unreasonable allocation of resources” and consequently refused to provide the data. Only after the Movement for Freedom of Information reduced the request to the years 2009 through 2011 did the army see fit to provide the requested data.

A portion of the data submitted by the army was published in Maariv on Monday morning. The Movement for Freedom of Information also asked the army to provide details on the numbers and percentages of suicides each year according to specific army units.

The IDF refused to provide such details, on the grounds of maintaining state security and individual privacy, but did submit the number of suicides each year according to their type of service – whether they were combat soldiers, combat-support soldiers [those who serve in combat units and operational environments but who are not themselves combat soldiers in the battlefield – G.C] or soldiers serving in home-front capacities.

This data reveal that the majority of suicides are home-front soldiers. In 2011, nine home-front soldiers committed suicide, as opposed to six combat soldiers. In 2010, 13 soldiers serving in home-front units committed suicide, as opposed to 11 combat soldiers. And in 2009, 11 home-front soldiers – those often known in Hebrew slang as jobniks because they work office jobs – committed suicide, as opposed to 5 combat soldiers.

The distribution into regional commands and branches revealed that the highest number of soldiers who committed suicide served in the Central Command (14 soldiers), followed by Northern Command (11), the Ground Forces Branch (8), Southern Command (7), and Israel Air Force (7).

IDF data shows that approximately 80 percent of suicides in the past three years were soldiers performing their compulsory service – 54 in total. Aside from them, nine regular army officers – both commissioned and non-commissioned – took their lives, as did six reservists.

Last week, Haaretz published data on suicides in the army over the past 20 years, which revealed a decline over the years in the number of soldiers committing suicide. Official IDF data reveals that 237 soldiers committed suicide in the past decade, meaning that a soldier takes his own life on the average of once every two weeks.

A senior-ranking psychiatrist told Haaretz that a majority of the suicides do not suffer from clinical depression; rather, they are individuals who are considered mentally and physically healthy. The official IDF data that relates to the years 2009-2011 reinforces this statement: 67 percent of all suicides during this period did not have any specifications regarding their mental health in their medical file. Of all of the soldiers who killed themselves in the past five years (excluding 2012), only two were defined as suffering from difficulties adapting to the army framework.

Israeli soldiers surrounding a Palestinian building during a search operation in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Wednesday, June 28, 2006.Credit: AP

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