Elite Israeli Army Combat Soldiers to Receive Greater Benefits in Bid to Aid Recruitment

A reduction in motivation for combat positions means the army has had to work harder to get the right people in the right places

File photo: IDF combat soldiers take part in an exercise.
IDF Spokesperson's Unit

The IDF plans to change the recruiting and service terms of its four elite units to attract mostly career officers, who would serve in improved conditions.

The units affected by the plan, which Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot recently approved, are Sayeret Matkal, the Navy commando Shayetet 13, the Air Force commando Shaldag and the Airborne Rescue and Evacuation Unit 669. The units’ new training program will be similar to that of Air Force flight schools.

Eisenkot said that given the reduced motivation for combat service, he had also authorized improving facilities and terms in combat units.

Soldiers who volunteer to the four elite units will serve for eight years instead of the current four-to-five years. Subsequently, the number of combatants who enlist in the units annually will be reduced and some of the commandos will be directed to infantry brigades and other elite units.

Eisenkot said on Wednesday at a meeting with military reporters in his office that the army has reached the conclusion that the system of selecting and placing soldiers in the four special units is ineffective. “Every year we take some 9,000 designated people in grades 11-12, with the best qualifications, and exhaust them with 9-12 accumulated days of team-building get-togethers,” he said.

“At the end of the process we are left with a relatively small number of combatants. They pass the longest, hardest training course and in the end we have only a short time to use them in the units,” he said.

The army will enable the combatants to study, at its expense, two years for a first academic degree of their choice, Eisenkot said.

The shift to a relatively long career service will enable the units to improve their professional standard and put the combatant teams, which will act together for a long period of time, to better use.

“There will be fewer selections and team-building sessions every year and the training will be more professional,” he said. ”Since the units will need fewer combatants every year, some of the highly trained soldiers who joined them until now will be sent to improve the standards of other combat units.”

The service program in these units will resemble the Air Force flight school and signing up for a long career service is similar to the way such units operate in Western armies and, to an extent, in the police elite anti-terror unit.

Eisenkot said that in the last four years the IDF slashed 6,000 career officers’ posts and the number of career soldiers is now close to 39,000. The streamlining will enable signing up some 2,000 soldiers and officers, mainly combatants, for a relatively short career service, without keeping them in the army until they retire. The army will gradually shift to operating on the basis of the career officers’ comprehensive wage costs, instead of the number of serving personnel, he said.

Eisenkot listed several other measures he recently authorized, in view of a certain reduction in motivation for combat service. He said the decisions are based on an “ideological statement: the combatants are our top priority.”

The IDF has invested tens of millions of shekels in building new combatants’ bases and renovating old ones, he said. Some 70 million shekels were allocated annually to provide the combatants with quality equipment, which until recently the units used to purchase with the help of soliciting unauthorized contributions.

The IDF also approved a pay raise for regular soldiers and especially in combatants, whose “subsistence fees” will be increased to some 2,000 shekels a month.