Israeli Army, Education Ministry to Promote Combat Service in High School Classrooms

Enlistment rates are sinking and dropout rates stand at over 7,000 male and female soldiers annually

Soldiers in the IDF's Golani Brigade training in the Golan Heights in 2013 (illustrative photo).
Ariel Schalit/AP

A plan being crafted by military prosecutors aims to stop soldiers from dropping out of the Israel Defense Forces — currently more than 7,000 soldiers annually, male and female.

The IDF also hopes to install joint programs with the Education Ministry for 11th graders to stress the importance of combat service.

“There is no model for the IDF that isn’t the people’s army,” Maj. Gen. Moti Almoz, the head of the IDF’s Manpower Directorate, told reporters Sunday.

But after the briefing, it was still hard to see trends regarding a desire to serve in combat units, because last year the IDF changed the way it gauges the motivation of soldiers to enlist in such units.

Over the past year, the army has begun assessing the mood of enlistees only on the day of their induction, en route to their bases and units. In the past, conscripts were asked about their motivation for combat service a year before their enlistment.

In an online survey taken of Armored Corps draftees on the day of their induction, 23 percent said they were not keen to serve as fighters in the corps. Nearly 65 percent said they wanted to be fighters, while the rest did not reply.

The IDF believes that motivation to do combat service must be worked on in high school. As a result, there are plans to encourage 11th graders to do combat service.

The army says part of the problem is that majors aimed at high-tech are regarded as more prestigious and receive higher priority, paving the way for students to seek to join the army’s technology and intelligence units.

Data presented at the briefing showed that 72 percent of each annual cohort of men is actually drafted, while 7 percent get medical exemptions, 15 percent declare that they are full-time yeshiva students, 3 percent are abroad and 3 percent don’t meet the enlistment threshold for other reasons.

Among women, 58 percent are drafted, 35 percent get a religious exemption and more than 7 percent are exempted for other reasons.

The IDF is very concerned about the large number of soldiers who quit the army within 18 months of enlisting, with 14.8 percent of the men and 7.6 percent of the women dropping out. Among soldiers of Ethiopian origin, who have always had a high dropout rate, that rate has fallen, but still, in that community 15 percent of the men and 7.2 percent of the women drop out.

The army expects that in a decade there will be 17,000 more soldiers drafted annually compared to this year, but that in the near term, until 2023, there will be a drop in the annual number of enlistees because of reforms that will gradually lower the term of compulsory service to 30 months. In 2024 the army expects a jump of 10,000 additional conscripts, while within three years after that there will be 17,000.

Managing this enhanced intake will require an additional 2,000 officers and a plan to find enough challenging and meaningful positions for all those conscripts.

The army is considering increasing the number of young people who do a year of national service before entering the army and lengthening the time they can remain in pre-military academies in an effort to channel those conscripts to meet the army’s needs.

This year, as in previous years, the IDF has not been able to meet its quota of draftees from the ultra-Orthodox community.