Border Police Is Now Israel's Most Popular Combat Unit Among New Recruits

Sharp rise in demand to serve in the unit attributed to the increased violence in the territories, leading to increased media coverage and public interest. Seven to eight new recruits are competing for every available post.

Israeli Border Police arrest a Palestinian youth during clashes in the Shoafat refugee camp of East Jerusalem, September 18, 2015.
AFP

The Border Police, known by the Hebrew acronym Magav, has recently become the most popular unit among new Israel Defense Forces recruits for combat service, according to IDF and Israel Police figures. The unit has pulled ahead of those that used to be the most popular, including Golani, the Paratroops and Givati.

The IDF allocates several thousand new recruits to Magav each year. In the past it was difficult to fill the ranks, and in the mid-1990s one of the commanders even accused the army of deliberately sending recruits with low personal profiles. Since then there has been a major change, and the growing preference for service in the Border Police peaked this year.

In recent years there have been seven to eight new recruits competing for every available place in the unit, compared to five to six in the Golani Brigade and about five in the Paratroops. The other infantry brigades – Givati, Nahal and Kfir – usually have about three soldiers competing for each place. There is less interest in serving in the other field units – the tank, artillery and engineering corps, and the army sometimes has to send them recruits who expressed a low preference for these units, but weren’t accepted to the infantry.

Violence in territories increased Magav's popularity

The army and the police attribute the sharp rise in demand for Magav to a combination of reasons, led by the increased violence in the territories in the past year, leading to increased media coverage and public interest. Another reason is apparently logistical conditions, with service on permanent and more comfortable bases than in the infantry brigades. In addition, most of the recruits want to volunteer for Magav’s elite units, such as the mistarvim, undercover soldiers disguised as Arabs.

Former Magav commander Amos Yaakov told Haaretz that the increased demand is related to changes in the corps, mainly an improvement in the training and treatment of the fighters. “The new figures don’t surprise me at all. Magav is now more ethical, more professional and more relevant to the Israeli reality.”

He said that the unit also gets fighters who failed to pass the tryouts for the pilots’ course and for elite IDF units, and want to serve in the mistarvim. “Today we’re recruiting young people from all over the country, even the strongest communities. We send Border Policemen who studied in the best high schools to their old schools to tell the students about the unit. The project has strengthened Magav significantly.” Yaakov doesn’t think that the wave of terror in the past year increased recruitment to the unit.

A senior officer said, “Our special units are very professional, and many high-quality young people want to serve in them.”